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Microinverters - Making Inroads in Solar Energy

By Dave Zgodzinski | Mon, 19 November 2012 17:37 | 0

Solar energy is converted by photovoltaic cells into DC – direct current electricity. Our household appliances run on alternating current – AC. So DC current must be “inverted” to become AC current before it can be used by our electricity infrastructure.

There are a number of companies that compete in the manufacture of inverters. Large capacity inverters are built for large power producers – wind farms and solar farms as an example.

In the past few years small inverters – microinverters – have been making inroads in solar. A separate inverter can be attached to each solar panel in a solar array. There are a few advantages to this kind of set-up – especially for smaller solar arrays.

Traditional inverters will convert the electricity from a whole solar array based on the output of the least productive solar panel. – the weakest link. So if one panel of the array is in the shade and the rest of the array is in bright sun, the inverter will convert the DC electricity from the whole array at the level of the shaded panel .

Microinverters don’t have that problem – the power from all panels is converted at the maximum production rate for that panel. Enphase microinverters can also supply monitoring information to the operators of solar arrays. They can see panel by panel output parameters, and therefore spot problems quickly and accurately.

Microinverters for each solar panel are more expensive than large inverters that convert the power for a whole solar array. But the advantages can pay for the price difference over time.

Enphase Energy is the leading microinverter manufacturer. Their business has been growing fast since they began shipping these units four years ago. Revenue in the third quarter increased 36% from the previous year. This fast growth is part of the reason that Enphase was able to go public back in April of this year, doing an IPO in a lousy market for renewable energy stocks.

The company sold over 10.3 million shares at $6 per share and raised $55 million after commissions. This was good news for the company, but not for anyone who has purchased the stock. In the continuing bear market for renewable energy stocks, Enphase has traded steadily lower since going public.

Thanks to raising the money in April, Enphase has a solid balance sheet. At the end of the last quarter, Enphase had $60 million in Working Capital – about $1.47 per share.  The stock closed on Friday at $1.99 per share.

If you factor out the working capital, the market is putting a value on the business itself of about $20 million. Enphase generated sales of $159 million in the first 9 months of this year.

Sales are growing rapidly and the company is in a hot sector of the solar business. Enphase wasn’t profitable this year because the company is spending heavily on research and development ($27 million in 9 months) and marketing ($18 million in 9 months). Hopefully the money they are spending now will lead to bigger and more profitable sales in the future.

The company is an innovator. Enphase is inventing new systems for connecting microinverters in a solar array that speed up the installing process. The company also makes equipment that connects solar arrays to the Internet and allows online monitoring – data collection and management.

In August, Enphase was recognized by the World Economic Forum as a technology pioneer – one of 23 companies in the world distinguished in that way.

Enphase is another stock that has been mauled by the renewable energy stock bear market. Inverters are a specialty product, but a necessary one for solar panels. Enphase is recognized as the strong brand for microinverters and is making sales around the world.

By. Dave Zgodzinski

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