The brain of a solar energy system is the inverter; without it, the power collected by solar panels has nowhere to go. As the uptake of solar unfolds across Africa, we caught up with Andrew Tyler, the Sales & Business Development Manager for sub- Saharan Africa at GoodWe EMEA, to find out what this means for inverter technology.
The inverters play a critical role in taking the direct current (DC) power generated by the solar panels and inverts it to alternating current (AC) electricity that can power anything that requires electricity.
It is such a vital element of the unit that shortly after commencing operation, GoodWe invested in their first R&D Centre in 2011 and opened a second R&D centre in 2017. Technological innovation is the primary core competence of a company that delivers on its ability to develop and improve products for customers.
Tyler hints at the company’s future, stating: “We have seen some fantastic products released by our team with a few more exciting products to come in 2022. We now have over 500 employees in our two R&D centres to ensure that performance and quality go together across the entire GoodWe range.”
For residential systems, Tyler has seen a move to larger kWp rated hybrid Inverters. This motivated the local office to design the EHB Series specifically for use on the African continent. “It offers a 5–10kW single-phase inverter, 50% DC oversizing, up to 4 x MPPTs and offers an installer-friendly design, making it easy to install in what can often be cumbersome spaces.”
The commercial and utility market is also taking up larger inverter sizing with various other technical improvements. “Our HT Series offers up to 120KWp for commercial rooftop and up to 250kWp in utility-scale ground-mount with some exciting new products expected to launch soon. Our HT Series offers 50% DC oversizing, up to 12 x MPPTs (maximum power point trackers), 10% extra AC power (120kWp can output up to 132kWp) and industry-leading temperature derating.”
The importance of selecting a suitable inverter cannot be overstated. Inverters provide many forms of protection to the installation, such as arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI), surge protection and anti-Islanding protection. “Smart inverters like ours will also be able to identify and report an issue. Inverters also play a role in the efficiency of solar systems and report the system’s overall performance via its monitoring platform.”
Offering a wide range of inverter products that have been used in residential and commercial rooftops, and industrial and utility-scale systems has made GoodWe a popular choice among distributors, EPCs and end-users. “We have Inverter products that range from 0.7kW to 250kW. And take pride in our local pre- and after-sale support. Our local service teams in different countries carry local RMA stock and offer support via our ticketing system.”
Being ahead of the solar curve
“The energy storage market offers quite an exciting opportunity for us in Africa,” says Tyler. “We face regular power cuts and general grid quality issues, which mean traditional grid-tied systems won’t operate as expected. An energy storage system adds stability to the overall performance and provides power for a backup load in the event of a grid failure.”
With an eye on future developments, the company is working on smart features in their energy storage products. These solutions will help with smart home integration and eventually load management for C&I applications. “Our inverters will interactively work with smart devices to control loads and maximise the use of the PV plants production,” he explains.
One of GoodWe’s primary growth focuses is on the African market, and they are developing their energy storage range to achieve this. Their first C&I Storage Inverter range is the BTC Series, an AC Retrofit solution to add storage to an existing grid-tied solution. The company also has an eye on a Full Hybrid Storage Inverter called the ETC Series, which offers customers an exciting all-in-one solution. “We should see these two products available in the coming months with additional product development expected in future.”
Looking back at 2020, a memorable project for Tyler was a shopping mall installation that used the company’s 60kWp MT Series inverters. “The complete system really came together well and highlighted the unique features GoodWe offers in our commercial range. With an AC to DC ratio of 1.2 to 1, we have regularly seen each inverter output 110% or 66kWp each, which offered the PPA provider additional PV production over and above the forecasted amount.”
He adds that it is always satisfying to have a happy client and a happy EPC and PPA provider. “We have more of the same experiences and feedback from clients on our entire product range.”
Operating through a pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge to overall business operations. Still, the company makes a point of engaging with the various industry associations in each country and region, and partakes in expos when possible and webinars to stay on top of all new developments.
The pandemic has seen the cost of raw materials rise due to global component shortages, which puts pressure on end-product prices. “Shipping into Africa has also been a challenge with volatile shipping costs, container shortages and regular ship cancellations putting major pressure on delivery times to customers.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic lockdowns, the entire GoodWe team has been working from home, “so we were already comfortable with it by the time it became the norm”. The South African team has continued to grow. An office in Johannesburg opened to allow the team to meet, collaborate and, more importantly, welcome customers for a coffee and a chat about their next GoodWe project.
“It has been quite interesting to see how successful we can still be conducting remote video meetings with customers versus traditional face-to-face meetings. There is still value in visiting our customers in their home country. We look forward to borders opening more and a return to visiting our customers in their country. I have always believed there is a middle ground between being office-based and having a flexible working arrangement.”
Tyler believes there is immense untapped potential in the sub-Saharan Africa region and is excited to see how it evolves in the coming months and years. “We engage with a lot of customers and stakeholders to ensure we are on top of all the latest developments – we can adapt to remain competitive and fit our customers changing requirements.” ESI