SMA solar energy inverter

Lux Research has a couple of interesting reports out regarding who the winners and losers are likely to be in several key energy-related categories.

Lux, it should be pointed out, is in the business of providing governments, businesses and investors with proprietary information on emerging technologies. The company uses a combination of data-driven models and interviewing techniques to develop a “grid” scorecard on relative competitiveness. (Lux’s Evgenia Pekarskaya also provided one of the top-rated presentations at the recent Ceramic Leadership Summit.)

In a recent study titled, “Sorting Solar Module and Inverter Manufacturers on the Lux Innovation Grid,” judges the competitiveness of copper indium gallium diselenide and concentrated photovoltaics companies, energy-inverter makers.

In brief, Lux says that among CIGS players, Q-Cells subsidiary Solibro and start-up Miasolé have moved into the what the researchers call the “dominant” quadrant.

In the CPV category, Lux says Amonix has broken away from its competitors followed by Concentrix and Solaria, while the rest of the CPV field struggles.

In the inverter field, Lux says once sure-thing leaders SMA and Siemens are being surpassed by innovative companies like Advanced Energy and Satcon. Lux says the latter two could easily move into the “dominant” quadrant depending on how the companies manage and execute expansion. Other companies that Lux says are in strong positions are Amonix, Enphase and Abound Solar, the Lux predicts that each of these will launch IPOs in the coming year, with Enphase being something of a favorite at this point because of its high sales volumes.

“As the solar industry braces for a renewed shakeout, identifying which module- and inverter-makers have the greatest value is more important than ever,” said Jason Eckstein, a research associate at Lux Research and the report’s lead author.

Regarding energy demand solutions, in a report report, titled “Who wins the peak? The battle of solar, storage and smart grid to fill peak demand,” Lux shifts its approach and focuses its predictions on certain technologies rather than companies. In particular, Lux drilled into solar, demand response, thermal storage and compressed-air energy storage approaches. These four technologies, the company believes, can address the top third of the peak demand curve, thereby minimizing the use and construction of new supplemental gas-fired turbine systems.

Lux argues that based on cost and capital investment, demand response — where electricity customers reduce their consumption at critical times or in response to market prices — is best positioned to displace natural gas during extreme peak periods. But, the authors of the report warn that practical supply limits it to a 1% capacity factor, i.e., demand response cannot address the entire peak alone.

Lux also says that distributed solar power can out compete natural gas, primarily because of the subsidies these systems currently receive. These systems, predicts Lux, can handle about 23-30% of peak energy demand.

Although a number of stories have appeared in this blog and elsewhere about energy-storage solutions, Lux says that this technology is relative immature and this immaturity cripples its adoption. A Lux news release notes that, “[T]he technology’s immaturity makes it a non-starter today on cost and bankability, meaning that natural gas will continue to win the peak for years to come.”

“As the cost of energy storage declines, it will help make wind, solar and other intermittent renewables more viable sources of cheap dispatchable power during peak periods,” says Ted Sullivan, a Lux senior analyst the report’s lead author. “In order to supplant expensive natural gas peaker plants, policymakers need to better align subsidies for wind and solar with their actual cost to utilities. Although subsidies help make solar plants more economically viable, there is little incentive for utilities to install and operate them. Once installed, solar plants help satisfy peak demand, but increase system-level costs to utilities – such as the need to maintain dispatchable natural gas peaker plants in addition to solar capacity.”