Doing without grid infeed
The starting point for both new developments which Steca wants to use to lift itself above the standard market is the altered marketplace. Huguette Kolb-Aust, Sales Manager for Solar Electronics at the Bavarian manufacturer, notes that grid-tied and off-grid systems are getting closer to oneanother not only in Europe, but worldwide.
Because grid infeed is becoming less and less profitable both in Germany and other countries, own consumption and storage are becoming ever-more important. More and more customers do not wish to feed in at all now, says the head of sales. After all, “it is remarkable what lengths you must go to in order to get 11 ct/kWh of remuneration.” Those put off by the bureaucracy involved with feeding in will try and use all the solar electricity themselves. The new hybrid inverter is geared to these customer demands. The product is called the Solarix PLI 5000-48 and was recently installed in a Belgian solar system because the customer wanted to be autonomous. The hybrid inverter is suitable for an autonomous solar system, an uninterruptible electricity supply and also for a solar system which gets its electricity from the grid or a diesel generator if required.
Steca thus wants to prepare itself for future market developments. These are markets in which grid infeed used to be normal, obvious even, but which are now changing because full infeed is becoming less important. “The product is also interesting for classical off-grid markets, however,” stresses Kolb-Aust. Solar home systems are generally the most common in these markets, but this is changing too. Several hybrid inverters can be connected in parallel and thus form mini grids or even small commercial systems.
The second iron which Steca has in the fire is called “coolcept flex”. This is not a particular inverter as such, but a technology platform which will enable a flexible reaction to future market characteristics. The platform makes it possible for Steca to be able to bring inverters onto the market which have storage connections suitable for both high-voltage and low-voltage solutions. The platform also aims to enable AC and DC charging of electric vehicles. Because no standard has yet emerged, neither in terms of the battery nor the electric vehicle, coolcept flex has to be able to do anything really.
Digitalisation as a service
In order to expand, SMA is taking a step beyond the inverter world and is starting a new business model that is to grow and prosper under the roof of its subsidiary Coneva. This could also indirectly improve the requirements for growth of the core business, for SMA can only really sell more inverters if the energy transition makes rapid progress. When there is a lack of political support it is better to lay down a path for photovoltaics through your own initiatives. SMA is taking up this challenge with the setting up of an energy management that encompasses all the sectors; heating, cooling, electricity and mobility are taken as a whole. This is because photovoltaics can only carry on growing rapidly if it can supply power to the other sectors.
The name of the new subsidiary stands for “connected energy value” and thus points to the linking up of different forms of energy with a view to creating additional value. Coneva is concentrating on an integrated energy management across all sectors, is gathering data from electricity and heat generation systems as well as from the consumers of heat and electricity, and is bringing together supply and demand on the ennexOS platform developed by SMA. The integrated measurement of energy flows, intelligent forecasting procedures and support for individual tariff models should make it possible for the customer to have a complete overview of costs.
“Our energy management solutions are based on three pillars,” explains the head of Coneva, Jochen Schneider, “the ennexOS platform, the data from approx. 300,000 photovoltaic systems registered at SMA and our energy-economic know-how.” On this basis an energy system can be adjusted and optimised. Subsequently, the energy can be sold to nearby consumers via “peer-to-peer trading”.
This service is of interest to supermarkets, for example; especially the electricity-devouring cooling and refrigeration technology is an almost ideal consumer of solar electricity, but is also a means to an end for shifting loads. Additionally, the heat produced by the freezers could be sold to nearby residential buildings – a sign of the multitude of possibilities for making money from interconnected energy systems.
“We carry out services which our customers offer to end consumers under their own name and logo,” explains Schneider. This so-called “white-label” service enables a municipal utility, for example, to offer customers a complete portfolio which optimises energy consumption and integrates the customers into the energy market. This is primarily interesting for small and medium-sized utilities which cannot deal with digitalisation on their own. This is what the Coneva service is tailored to.