Huawei Smart PV country manager Zygmunt Nejman talks about the bulging utility-scale solar project pipeline in Australia and the advantages of string inverter technology.

You’re a recent addition to the renewables landscape in Australia. What’s attracted you here?

The Australian market has come back to life, not just residential but also the industrial sector. Australia almost fell off the map, in terms of solar. When Abbott came in he made it extremely difficult. That literally stopped any real solar activity, really, and wind. Any renewables took a hit. That was 2012, 2013, 2014. For the last couple of years nothing happened, and that RET keeps coming closer.

Now there is all this huge activity going on to get there. Suddenly, things are happening. That risk has gone away, so the investors are there. Electricity rates are high, so returns are good. There is lots of sunshine, cheap land – that perfect storm of activity is happening right now. That makes it interesting again for us. Huawei has been very successful with its string inverters for many years, exceptionally successful in China but also in Europe and the US.

You mention political risk, what about the risk as subsidies slowly disappear?

Well, it [the RET and associated subsidies] is confirmed through to 2020. What happens after that is the question.

With the pipeline of solar and wind projects do you see any problems filling demand for all the technology?

No, I don’t think there’s a problem filling the demand. Where demand has gone up here it’s gone down in other places. For example, in France and Germany demand has cooled off, so it’s an opportune time for Australia to take advantage of that, really. The opportunity to supply the products for those projects is there.

What difference does it make to a utility-scale plant when string inverters are used?

Obviously, the technology has changed over the years. String inverters may not have had the same features and technology that a central inverter had, but they now do. Especially the Huawei inverters. Not only do they have the same features and functions, the cost of them has also come down. Now you have this benefit of a product that does the same functions, is easy to install, easy to ship, easy to maintain – so your capital costs are easy because you don’t have the big problems with central inverters on ground work and that sort of thing. Maintenance costs are lower because a standard electrician can be used for the swap out or maintenance of the inverter. String inverters have come to the point now where they match central inverters.

Will there be enough skilled workers to work on all the projects over the next few years?

The EPCs [engineering, procurement and construction companies] are struggling. Everyone is looking for personnel to work on these projects, to design and build them. There is finance coming into the country, there are even more developers coming into the country – like I say, it’s kind of that perfect storm of things going on. Over the next couple of years it’s probably going to be a couple of gigawatts a year. The outlook is sunny!

Huawei has been involved in some enormous projects around the world. Which regions do large-scale solar best and what do they get right?

Obviously China, where there are some huge projects still going on. In April Huawei signed an agreement with Adani for a 635MW project in China – that’s massive. In the US there are still a few 100MW projects going on. The European market has cooled off a bit since a lot of the subsidies have been cut. The viability of building a big project there has kind of gone away. China is still powering ahead, and India is steam-rolling ahead! At the same time subsidies are being turned off, a lot of the costs are coming down, too. The goal is that when the subsidies are turned off it’s still a viable product.

In Germany in 2000 they did a 20-year program, with a regressive [subsidy] rate. They said, we know costs are high now but if we get everyone to work on it then by the end of the 20 years it will all be viable product. And it’s worked. It’s really worked.

EcoGeneration spoke to Zygmunt Nejman at the Solar Asia Summit in Sydney in April, which was jointly presented by Huawei and the Australia China Entrepreneurs Dialogue.