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2 June 2017

Huawei hopes IoT solar inverter can win big in Europe

By Jack Vernon

Huawei has announced that it is launching a new residential solar inverter in Europe – just as the minimum import price for panels is lifted and the market is set to grow. The Huawei FusionHome will use monitoring software to manage power consumption and maximize energy yields for customers – and marks a shift in Huawei’s solar strategy.

Previously Huawei, a technological giant with fingers in many pies, has targeted the large-scale solar inverter market, where it has become the market leader. The new skew takes aim at the commercial and residential sector, providing a sleek design that converts solar panel output into electricity that can be used by the buildings – typically converting from the DC current used in the panels to the AC required by end-devices.

The product launch is timely, given that the European Union has voted to curtail its solar panel minimum import price within the next 18 months. The impact of which will open up Europe to importing cheaper panels from Asia – helping to stimulate the residential solar panel market in Europe and creating a large amount of potential demand for Huawei’s FusionHome inverter.

The EU import tariff had artificially inflated the price of solar panels for European consumers, eventually leading to a fall in the number of new installations, according to energy-watchers. The volume of new solar grid connections peaked at 22.4GW in 2011 before declining each year to a low of 7.1GW in 2014 – with price being cited as a key reason behind this slump.

Conversely the Chinese government has been ramping up the speed of its adoption of solar panels, doubling the country’s solar PV capacity in 2016. China’s installed solar capacity rose to 77.42 GW by the end of 2016, thanks to the addition of 34.54 GW during the year. Supported by efforts of the Chinese government, Huawei has become the largest solar inverter manufacturer – giving the company a wealth of experience and understanding in inverter technology.

The FusionHome solution is likely to mimic the company’s FusionSolar solution, a product which cemented Huawei’s popularity amongst the solar community. FusionSolar offered customers digital information on how a PV system was performing through data collection, adding a large amount of value to the product that helped Huawei carve out a name for itself.

The launch materials suggest that these same performance monitoring features will be included in FusionHome. Huawei’s other marketing push is focused on the ease at which the product can be installed, even with limited rooftop space the product should be easily installed. Huawei claims that the FusionHome has an energy conversion efficiency of 98.6%, which would put it towards the top-end of the market for inverter conversion efficiency.

FusionHome users will be able to monitor their solar panels on a PC or smartphone in real time. The Smart Power Sensor shows the available power at any given time and how best to use it, factoring in weather conditions and electricity available on the market. Huawei claims the FusionHome can switch grids automatically, using this time to recharge storage batteries, thereby minimizing energy costs.

Huawei says the inverter is capable of communicating with home appliances, controlling energy flows to maximize the solar power used – details are not given but such a system would most likely be reliant on PLC.  The inverter also comes with a DC-coupling allowing for the addition of a storage battery at any time.

The inverters and solar panels are the first step towards a distributed-generation future, where homes generate more of the electricity they consume. The addition of batteries in the home to store the solar panel’s energy is the next evolution, and somewhere along the way, utilities will need to establish a control mechanism to ensure that these panels and storage assets are used efficiently – and don’t overload the grid.

The process of a utility reaching into the home and controlling an appliance, to turn down a neighborhood’s collective AC usage by a degree to avoid having to fire up a coal plant’s reserve capacity for example, is called Demand Response (DR), and is a practice that has enormous efficiency benefits but a great many hurdles in front of its widespread adoption.