Recipes for global success: an interview with Power-One Vice President of Product Marketing and Business Development Management Paolo Casini

Paolo Casini
Paolo Casini

Paolo Casini has been global vice president of product marketing and business development management at Power-One since April 2010. In 2006, he was nominated marketing director of the Renewable Energy Division.

Paolo Casini joined the company in 1993 as an electronic design engineer, and joined the International sales and marketing department after spending three years in the U.S. as a project coordinator.

Interview conducted on February 11th, 2011 by Solar Server International Correspondent Christian Roselund

Solar Server: First of all, congratulations on your emergence as the world's second-largest inverter maker for solar photovoltaic (PV) applications. Can you tell us to what you attribute Power-One's growing share of the global inverter market in recent years?

Paolo Casini: I will try to, even though like any good recipe there is not only one ingredient, it is a combination of factors. I think in the first place, Power-One has always invested in designing and producing excellent products, excellent in terms of performance and quality.  And I think these products have come to the attention of the PV industry.

Power-One is not a newcomer in the electronic industry. We have forty years of experience in power electronics. The experience and the know-how that has been acquired in forty years has been seen as extremely valuable by our customers.

The other thing is, this is a company with a global footprint. It is a public company, so it is quite visible, and bankable, if you wish, and can follow all customers wherever they are. So providing products when they are needed and where they are needed.

I think it is the combination of all these factors that represents a certain guarantee to all of our customers of consistency. So this is the key to our success. The other thing is that if you look at the product itself, we have been able to manage our product portfolio in such a way as to be quite exhaustive. So coming from residential to utility scale, it is a one stop shop.

 

Solar Server: Tell us about Power-One's PV inverters. What differentiates your company's product from competing inverter designs?

Paolo Casini: We can probably summarize those differentiators in a couple of points. The first one is that we have a product with an excellent performance. Excellent performance besides quality - and we do not compromise on quality - means productivity, the capacity of harvesting energy.

So we talk about top plus efficiency, and the accuracy of the MMPTs, or maximum power point tracking technology. This is one factor that is definitely extremely important.

But the other key factor that we have always leveraged on, and that we think is really important, is represented by the design flexibility of our product. So there is a set of features that is present in any product in our product line, and specifically that is maximum power point trackers, very wide input voltage ranges, robust outdoor enclosures, and the natural cooling, so there will be no fan, that puts no restriction in the way the unit can be installed.

On January 31st, 2011 Power-One Inc. (Camarillo, California, U.S.) opened its first North American manufacturing facility in Phoenix, Arizona to produce inverters to accompany solar and wind generation.

 

The combination of that makes our product competitive pretty much with any kind of application. And results in a very easy design of our product in any project. So meaning once the designer and the installer have become familiar with the product they can easily use it. And see the specific item for that which fits better for a certain application, so the flexibility of any one of our products, that can really accommodate any sort of request.

And I think that flexibility really makes the product, along with the performance. That has to be top plus, but the flexibility is really what is the true uniqueness of the Power-One product.

 

I note that your Aurora inverter line incorporates MMPT. Can you talk about the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating power management in inverters?

Paolo Casini: The maximum power point tracking capacity is a mandatory function of all these power inverters, not only for Power-One. But it is the way the power point tracking is carried out makes a difference. The maximum power point is simply related to the fact that the PV panel has a specific working point under which they deliver the maximum energy. And the inner components cannot define on their own which is the best point of operation, so it is the inverter has to understand and force the panel so that the panel operates at that specific maximum power point.

Assembly of Auroa inverters in the Phoenix
Assembly of Auroa inverters in the Phoenix

And the reason it is called tracking is because that power point changes, changes with the sun position, changes with the temperature. So it is heavily influenced by environmental parameters, weather conditions, shade and so forth. Meaning that the inverter has to be smart enough not only to understand, so to calculate the point which is maximum power transfer, but also has to be capable of following that point in its dynamic evolution. The accuracy according to which this maximum power point tracking is carried out, that makes the difference.

So without getting into details which would be extremely complicated, it is one of the points in which we have always investigated, invested a lot, in terms of a new solution. And we have specifically for that point a patented technique, a patented solution, that definitely makes the accuracy of that function as good as 99.99% under any operation condition.

 

So you can make sure that you can transfer all the power that the module array can capture at any working condition, any weather condition.

 

Solar Server: After a very successful 2010, Power-One released an outlook for 2011 that did not predict the same level of growth for the year. Can you talk a little about your concerns for the global PV market in 2011, and how Power-One plans to meet those challenges?

Paolo Casini: We at Power-One come from five years of outstanding growth. One on hand, we have reached a dimension that makes it difficult to continuously achieve a three digit growth rate year after year, so as we  reach 2011, Power-One has a total revenue in excess of one billion dollars.

We have to consider another important thing, the fact that we started 2011 after a 2010 that caught unprepared the PV industry with this major upsurge in demand. The PV industry, inverter manufacturers, panel manufacturers, but specifically inverters, concentrated on developing capacity to keep up with the pace of demand.

Now we started 2011 with such a capacity in place but a relatively low demand due to the seasonality, and very important, a yet undefined feed-in tariff policy, and changes to the policy, especially in the biggest, European markets. This makes it more difficult to fill out this capacity that the industry has built.

To answer your question, how do we see 2011, 2011 will be flat relative to 2010, or it will show a modest growth. In any way, it won't be a major year of demand upsurge like 2010 was.

So that is the reason that we have set our growth expectation to a less glamorous level. But Power-One plans to grow, and plans to grow faster than the market. And that means challenges.

And regarding what really is important, actually what we see for 2011, we still see Europe to be the dominant market. The challenges that the European market is putting on vendors with the revision of the feed-in tariff will be substantial.

The feed-in tariff is actually a push, to expedite, if you wish, the achievement of the ultimate goal, which is grid parity. So Europe is and will remain the market which has the strongest technology innovation.

It is very likely what Europe will end up doing this: at the best the market will remain flat, but personally I think it will slow down, so it will shrink versus 2010. The challenges are presented by the fact that there are other markets and countries that are coming up that can compensate for the shortfall of Europe.

That brings new attention to countries like China, the United States, Canada, as well as North America, and also India. In some of them the market is not new, has been around definitely for some time, but has not reached the level that everybody is expecting. I am talking about China, but also the United States.


Considering that most of the big players in the PV inverter market are European, that forces a European company to look outside their territory. So a small company can be a major issue. But I think that offers opportunity to large companies that have an established presence, with a global footprint.

So they are looking with extremely high interest to the North American market, so don't forget that even though so far we have been operating for Europe, Power-One is headquartered in the U.S. But also the Asian market, and again China and India.

In getting ready for these new challenges, we just started a brand new operation in Phoenix, Arizona, with 1GW capacity, and from that facility we are going to serve the United States market.

We have established a manufacturing presence in Ontario in the last quarter of 2010, which manufactures products for the Ontario market. And by the end of this quarter we will have a full operating facility in China, from where we intend to serve the emerging Asian market, that will also have a capacity close to 1GW.

All of those in addition to the facility that we have in Europe, which has been brought to a 4.4GW of annual capacity. So that in terms of capacity, put us in a position to properly serve the needs of present and future customers.

We had in 2010 a necessity to extend our offering of monitoring solution to our customers. In October of 2010 we bought Fat Spaniel, one of the leading worldwide providers of monitoring and control solutions. The combination of the traditional Power-One line of inverters, along with the range of products and services offered by Fat Spaniel, from residential to utility operations, can make our offer really valuable to any customers. 

We are reinforcing, heavily investing and reinforcing our service structure to cover our global customer base. I think that puts us in a condition to act and react to the challenges that 2011 is going to put on us.

 

Solar Server: Is there anything we haven't covered that you feel like telling our readers about Power-One, inverters and the PV inverter market in 2011?

Paolo Casini: There is a message that I want to deliver, just to deepen a little a bit the description of the market and how we see the market. I think what we will see from 2011 onward will be a little bit of differentiation that is not only due to the geographical location of the market, but I think we will see more and more a differentiation in the demand that we will see from those markets.

Not only is the challenge to become global, but also the specific manufacturing capacity will have to be tuned to the specific needs of the market you are serving from that facility. So you need to be very careful to understand what are the future needs for each one of them, and they can be different.