“Innovation is our key focus”

Interview with Huawei’s Mayank Mishra

The rapid uptake of solar power in India has created a plethora of opportunities for global component manufacturers including large inverter players like Huawei. Recently, Mayank Mishra, regional director, solar business development, Huawei Telecommunications (India) Company Private Limited, spoke to Renewable Watch about the company’s strategy to cope with the changing market dynamics, its key focus areas and future plans. Excerpts…

What have been the key recent developments at Huawei Solar?

Huawei Solar has participated in more than 3 GW of solar installations in the Indian market till date, while another 1 GW is currently in the pipeline. The company has been working on projects with major developers like Adani, ReNew Power and Hero Future Energies, all having robust pipelines. It is also engaged with large engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) agencies like Mahindra Solar, Sterling & Wilson and Tata Power.

The Indian solar market is one of the most significant PV markets globally and has great prospects. Huawei invariably sees India an essential solar market. With India witnessing solar capacity additions of 6 GW in 2017-18 and 10 GW in 2018-19, we plan to increase our market share dramatically in 2019-20. Together with Indian partners, we are continuously developing advanced technologies for PV plants to improve energy yields, reduce operational costs and maximise profits. Huawei will bring more advanced and competitive products and FusionSolar Smart PV Solutions to the Indian market to contribute to the PV industry in India.

How has Huawei been involved in the utility and rooftop solar segments?

In the Indian market, Huawei’s main focus was the utility segment. However, it has also been involved in about 300 MW of rooftop solar projects in the country. Huawei is conducting workshops in key areas covering all possible states. These workshops aim to technologically educate small-scale local installers, dealing with capacities ranging from a few kW to 100 kW. This may help increase Huawei’s prominence.

Being one of the Tier I manufacturers, Huawei’s price point is relatively higher. How does the company compete in a price-sensitive market like India?

I agree that all the consumers would prefer cost-effective products, which means high efficiency products at low cost. Price is definitely not the only criterion for customers to choose solar power generation solutions. An inverter accounts for about 4-5 per cent of the overall project cost, but it is a key component of the PV plant, like brain or heart, and deeply affects power generation and efficiency. Spending an additional 0.5-1 per cent for better quality equipment would be a good decision. Many developers who started working with Huawei have trusted the company and stayed on. Taking the 25-year life span into consideration, the Smart PV Solution that Huawei provides has an optimal levellised cost of energy (LCoE) for solar projects.

Huawei believes high quality is essential for the long life of the product, and we never sacrifice quality to lower product costs. This has raised the confidence of our customers in Huawei solutions.

What are the different varieties of inverters being offered by Huawei currently?

Huawei has a broad range of inverters for the utility and rooftop segments. The flagship product for this year is SUN2000-185KTL-INH0. It is a utility-scale 1,500 V DC system, with a capacity of 160 kW at 50 °Celsius. The 1,000 V inverters are becoming obsolete in the utility sector. For the rooftop segment, Huawei currently offers 36 kW and 50 kW inverters, and is soon going to launch a 100 kW inverter.

Automation is a unique selling point of Huawei’s digital solutions. What is this feature and how does it differ from other products?

Our key focus is on innovation to help customers reduce their manual work. Artificial Intelligence (AI), cloud computing, and other digital technologies have helped in developing our new inverter and solutions. Our flagship inverter is able to give the most optimal LCoE solution based on AI. It can also control the tracker motors for bifacial solution. Huawei is using this intelligence, along with technologies used for data communication, to help provide customers with optimal solutions. It has jointly worked with the tracker companies to develop these technologies. In terms of technology integration, Huawei also has other functions like maximum power point tracking, multi-peak tracking and smart I-V curve diagnosis.

The latest Smart I-V Curve Diagnosis 3.0 has changed traditional manual sampling detection. The system performs full detection on all PV modules. It takes only 15 minutes to scan a 100 MW PV plant and automatically generate a detection report covering 14 types of faults that is certified by TÜV. The solution applies to a wide variety of PV scenarios such as large-scale ground-mounted, distributed, and residential PV plants. The detection is completed online, sparing the personnel of site visits. This greatly improves the O&M efficiency of PV plants in the entire life cycle and reduces the O&M cost.

How have inverter costs changed over the past two to three years?

When Huawei started business in India, inverter costs were high, although the share of inverters in the total project cost was still 5-6 per cent. The overall project costs have come down, which has put a tremendous pressure on the market’s supply side. In the global scenario, there has been a major price drop due to evolving technologies. With rising volumes of expensive components, we can expect a further decline in costs due to economies of scale and innovation.

In India, there is a lot of discussion on emerging technologies like floating solar and bifacial. How is Huawei planning to tap these projects?

Huawei’s string inverter is highly suitable for floating solar projects as it only weighs about 80 kg. The typical weight of a traditional inverter is 6 tonnes for 3.125 MW. It is very difficult to put such heavy inverters in a floating solar set-up. The string inverters lie in the C4 corrosion class, so they can handle the humid environment in a floating solar project.

In the bifacial space, PV modules are affected by weather and ground conditions, and have more mismatch losses. So Huawei has established a 2D physical model applicable to large ground-mounted PV plants. Integrating all-scenario, adaptive and self-learning intelligent algorithms that balance the calculation speed and design details, this model generates the optimal design solution and increases the energy yield by 3 per cent compared to conventional design solutions. It is a leading design tool for bifacial PV modules that covers both the DC side and AC side, and is verified in terms of precision.

The solar inverter is a key electrical device in the bifacial PV module system. Because the current produced by bifacial PV modules is large, it takes a long time for fuses to be blown in case of weak-current overload. This imposes great risks of fires. In this case, fuses are not recommended for the bifacial PV module system. The mismatch in the bifacial PV modules is three times that of conventional PV modules.

Therefore, the MPPT granularity of the solar inverter is required to be smaller, and the mismatch loss caused by inconsistency needs to be avoided when designing and connecting the PV strings to the solar inverter. Huawei’s 1,500 V Smart String Inverter with multiple MPPTs effectively reduces string mismatch and increases yields by more than 2 per cent, based on such cases. As compared to central inverters, the string inverters can generate up to 4.5 per cent more power making a very strong case for their use in bifacial powered systems.

What is Huawei’s outlook regarding the solar inverter market in India?

Over the years, India has seen a fluctuating demand in the solar market. There have been cycles of low and high demand; however, the dips in cycles are slowly reducing. Since 2014-15, the demand has scaled up with the current market measuring up to 10 GW per year. Policy changes such as the safeguard duties slowed the growth, while the same government continuing in the second term accelerated the process. Even though there was a slow period in 2018 in which no bids were invited, bidding has picked up in 2019 and there are several projects in the pipeline to be installed in 2020-21.

Working together with Huawei’s Indian partners, we want to make sure that their installations are successful and financially viable. Huawei is continuously developing technologies to improve energy yield and provide optimal LCoE solutions for our customers to maximise their profit.

“For encouraging manufacturing, India should have one window for getting all approvals.”

“If a policy sustains over time and there is growth, it will be considered a good manufacturing environment.”

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