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National shortage of PV inverters hits home

British customers have been left with solar photovoltaic systems that don't work because UK installers are suffering the impact of a national shortage of inverters suitable for PV systems.
National shortage of PV inverters hits home
UK installers face a four month wait for the key component required to make PV systems convert the sun's rays into electricity and as a result have been installing the systems without inverters.

The nation's supply of PV inverters has been hit because one of the UK's two suppliers, global PV inverter maker SMA (based in Germany) had a microchip supply issue earlier this year, which affected its production of PV inverters destined for the UK. The UK's only other PV inverter supplier, Austrian firm Fronius, was then faced with meeting the UK's rapidly increasing demand for PV systems, recently boosted by the launch of the UK Feed-In-Tariff on April 1, 2010.

UK installers felt the worst of the inverter shortage in March 2010. Just as UK installers worked to finish projects before the Low Carbon Building Programme's funding ran out and April 1's FIT scheme came in, they were told they must wait at least 10 weeks before receiving inverters. Prior to this, installers were used to a two week turnaround time and some installers had ordered inverters only two weeks before the end of their projects.

Ray Noble from the Renewable Energy Association which represents 200 PV installer members in the UK, said: 'Many installers have fitted PV systems but are still waiting for the inverter to arrive. They have paid up front but can only wait. Small installers may have resorted to charging the customer prior to getting the inverter which is not what we would suggest'.

The German government's decision to end its FIT scheme on July 31, 2010, has compounded the problem by pushing up demand for PV inverters to meet Germany's photovoltaic market needs.

Post-April 1, 2010, four other overseas firms began supplying the UK with inverters for PV. As a result, SMA and Fronius together currently hold 90% of the UK market and 65% of the global market.

UK utility firm npower has witnessed an 80% rise in UK solar PV panel enquiries, following the introduction of the UK's FIT scheme. When plans for the scheme were announced in July 2009, npower said it had a 200% increase in enquires for solar PV panels. Any homeowner who has had solar PV panels installed can benefit from the FIT scheme, receiving up to 41.3p for every unit of electricity they generate.

But UK customers like Rupert Wilson have been left angry by the shortage. He said: 'Some six weeks ago, I had a photovoltaic solar panel installed on my roof to take advantage of the microgeneration feed-in-tariffs. Since installation, despite the magnificent sunshine, the unit has produced nothing, because the installer was unable to supply an inverter. He has no idea when my inverter will be available. It might be August. It might be October. It could be even later'.

Ray Noble added:'The UK never really had a market in PV but the announcement of a UK FIT in 2009 has changed that. This year, the UK market for PV grew by ten times what was installed last year. Next year PV growth is expected to be 25 times the growth of 2010. We had a cottage industry that now has big building industry players getting involved. Global demand for the number of inverters has doubled from last year to this year'.
30 June 2010

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