Solar market: HUBER+SUHNER remains true to its principles
The solar market is growing and prices are falling. HUBER+SUHNER is repositioning its activities in line with this development, while remaining true to its core company principles. Connectivity spoke to Max Goldi, Market Unit Manager Industry, about current market developments, their impact on the company’s offerings and what customers can expect from HUBER+SUHNER in the future.
Connectivity: Max Göldi, in order to understand the most recent developments in the solar industry, we first need to take a look at the market. According to a study by the European Photovoltaic Association, 16.8 GW of new output was installed in 2010. In 2011, this figure was 29.7 GW. The market experienced massive growth. How do you see it today?
Max Göldi: The market grew enormously from 2010 to 2011, then the crisis hit. Although the market continues to expand, its growth is much slower than in the boom years. The focus of the solar business has also shifted and Europe is no longer leading the field. China, the USA and Japan are all on the ascendency.
Has your business also relocated?
Yes and no. The majority of the module manufacturers are located in China, which is naturally an important market for us. That’s why we have relocated our solar box production toChina. Our customer base, however, continues to include both large and small specialist panel manufacturers throughout the world. Local installers also buy our cables and connectors. Our global production and distribution network therefore continues to be important
According to the study, the market will grow to 250 GW of new installations per year by 2020. What does this mean for HUBER+SUHNER?
Volume isn’t the problem. Two other aspects have more of an influence on our business: national subsidies and the enormous cost pressures in an extremely mass market. All over the world, governments are subsidising the exploitation of renewable energy, including solar power. They support both manufacturers and customers with attractive feed-in tariffs. However, the dependency on subsidies makes the market highly instable. Since renewable energy is becoming ever more important, this market will continue to grow nonetheless – hopefully without subsidies subsidies one day. What really worries us here is the falling product quality. As a result of the enormous overcapacity, the market is subject to high cost pressures. Too much cost pressure leads, in turn, to ignorance about product quality.
How are you responding to these developments in the solar market? Is HUBER+SUHNER changing its policy regarding the products it offers?
The erosion in prices means that we are able to achieve a marginal income at best in the mass market. As a result, we are instead concentring on applications and customers that require high quality, innovative solutions. We are remaining true to our principles: HUBER+SUHNER provides high-quality products at attractive prices.
So, for which customers is HUBER+SUHNER the right partner?
We focus on customers that demand quality in order to safeguard performance parameters over the long term. These are often panel manufacturers and installers with a regional focus who have found a niche by providing products at a higher quality than the rest of the market.
You spoke about innovative products. What does “innovative” mean to you?
For us, “innovative” means offering new connectivity solutions that panel manufacturers can mount on the module more easily and more cost effectively and that can be better integrated into their production process. Our RADOX HS3 solar box, for example, has been optimised to allow fast, safe installation with low material usage. We are also working on new, smart junction boxes so that we are prepared to meet the requirements of the near future.
Smart junction boxes are expensive. Doesn’t that contradict the trend towards falling prices?
And: Does the market really need smart electronics? The technology used in smart junction boxes optimizes yields and reduces the costs associated with repairs and maintenance. For instance, the electronics tell you when to clean or service the module. Politicians and insurance companies are also becoming increasingly concerned about safety in the solar market due to the fall in product quality. We expect a number of safety regulations to enter into force in the next two to three years which will necessitate the use of smart electronics. As an example, smart junction boxes can switch off the module if a fire occurs or even before the situation becomes critical. So, yes – the market needs smart connection technology.
Will HUBER+SUHNER be concentrating solely on junction boxes in future?
Junction boxes are one of our core business areas. However, we have also been delivering cables and systems to the solar market for over 30 years. And we will continue to do so in future. We are already developing the next generation of cables for system voltages of 1000/1500 volt, compared to the current value of 600/1000 volt. The latest junction boxes have already been designed to handle higher voltages. We are therefore continuing to make innovative additions to our product range.
Do you have any final thoughts for your customers?
Buy good quality. It pays off in the long run.