Switzerland-based Sputnik Engineering AG, the parent company of inverter manufacturer SolarMax, has filed for insolvency.
IHS reports Sputnik has been under intense competitive pressure and was a victim of the severe decline in the European photovoltaic inverter market, which has fallen from $5.5 billion in 2010 to $1.9 billion in 2013. IHS forecasts that the market will decline by a further 25% this year.
Cormac Gilligan, senior PV market analyst at IHS, reports SolarMax was the fifth-largest PV inverter supplier in the world in 2008, with a market share of over 4%. Its market share has declined each year since, and it held a share of less than 1% in 2013.
‘Sputnik has tried to expand into new markets, such as the U.S. and Chile, in order to reduce their exposure to the major European markets, such as Germany and Italy, which suffered a rapid decline,’ Gilligan says.
In 2013, SolarMax opened a sales and U.S. headquarters office in Atlanta. At the time, the company was hoping to make inroads in the U.S. commercial solar marketplace with its line of string inverters.
Alan Beale, general manager of SolarMax USA Inc., says the timing of the Sputnik insolvency decision was particularly unfortunate because the U.S. inverter business was ‘really in a growth mode’ and was working hard to keep up with customer demand.
IHS predicts that price pressure in Europe will continue, with average annual declines in the region of 5% to 10% each year for the coming five years. Therefore, the exit of SolarMax will provide only limited relief to the incredibly tough competitive environment that suppliers focused on Europe continue to face, IHS concludes.
Hope springs eternal, and Gilligan says it is not inconceivable that Sputnik may find a buyer for some or all of SolarMax. ‘In terms of finding a buyer, it could be possible that they do because the Solarmax brand is well respected,’ he says. ‘They have a strong presence in the string inverter market in Europe, and they have UL-listed products as well.’