In collecting all the market data for completed solar farms in the UK – done up until the end of the UK fiscal year period to 31 March 2016 – we have uncovered another exclusive for UK solar farm trends, this time related to inverter supply.

While the work of the in-house research team at Solar Media Ltd for now is focused on getting a top-20 EPC supplier list, for release on Solar Power Portal in May, a natural output from all the data we are collecting clearly relates to components used in completed sites (modules, inverters, mounting) and lots of other aspects of solar farm building (trenching, cabling, fencing, security, monitoring, ICP selection, G59 connection options, sub-contractor choice, etc.).

In general, two of the most eagerly tracked metrics, aside from lead-EPC choice, are those related to module and inverter supplier. So, before we look at module supply to the UK for the 1.3 ROC period (12 months to 31 March 2016), let’s look at inverter supply for ground-mounts.

We can now reveal exclusively that Huawei was the clear market-share leader for ground-mounted shipments to the UK solar PV market, for the 12 month fiscal year period (governed by ROC banding level changes) from 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016.

Market-share levels for Huawei were well above those seen by previous inverter suppliers that dominated the UK market between 2012 and 2015. And as such, there is no need even to define if we are talking DC or AC, or MW shipments versus revenues. However you do the maths, Huawei was the winner by some distance for the past year in the UK.

Huawei’s achievements from a supply perspective are all the more impressive, coming from having almost no market-share at the start of 2015.

So, why the big change in the UK inverter landscape?

A couple of points should be mentioned here, that go some way in explaining Huawei’s rapid move to become number one inverter supplier to the UK for the past 12 months.

In part, much comes down to being aligned with the right customers, or indeed your customers’ customers. In this respect, things have certainly changed in the UK market over the past 12 months, and component suppliers that were expecting every year to look like 2013 or 2014 have probably lost market-share in the past 12 months (not confined to inverters) and some have even retreated from the UK market as a result.

Another big shift however has been the increased use of string inverters for solar farms, compared to case a few years ago, when almost everything was based on central inverters. The main reason for this shift in the past 12-15 months can be traced back to May 2014, when the 2014 changes to ROC qualification ushered in a multitude of 4.99MW sites.

The smaller site size (with the exception of a few projects built under the 2014 grace conditions in the past few months) was more amenable to introducing string inverters than a market where 50MW sites are more the norm. While some EPCs had tried to shift from central to string inverters for larger sites in the past few years, there had been concerns then related to site reliability and ongoing maintenance.

There will be other factors behind why Huawei – and not any other string inverter supplier – has so dramatically moved to the top of the inverter supply rankings to the UK, but certainly the changes in site-size and EPC/developer options in the UK has played a significant part.

As we look ahead until the end of the current (and final) ROC incentivised year to 31 March 2017, there are no strong indications yet of these recent trends continuing, but the solar industry in the UK (like many other countries) moves at a rapid and often unpredictable pace.

However, it may still be 2017 onwards that sees the biggest changes in ground-mount activity, with the number of developers and key suppliers likely to be a greatly reduced subset, compared to the many companies still pushing for business opportunities under 1.2 ROCs.