Solar power firm expands in NZ

There are 150,000 jobs in the US solar industry, says Enphase CEO Paul Nahi. Photo / Thinkstock
There are 150,000 jobs in the US solar industry, says Enphase CEO Paul Nahi. Photo / Thinkstock

A leading United States-based maker of advanced solar power system inverters hopes to expand its research and development centre in New Zealand.

Enphase Energy has developed new generation microinverters - the brains of a solar power system that convert direct current to alternating current to use in homes and businesses - with the help of engineers in Christchurch.

It set up an engineering design centre in Christchurch in 2011 to work in tandem with Silicon Valley colleagues to develop its technology.

Enphase chief executive Paul Nahi said the large pool of electrical engineers in New Zealand encouraged the company to set up the unit here.

"It started as an engineering resource. New Zealand has a tremendous number of specialised power engineers," he said.

He said he expected the unit would be expanded and the company wants to sell more of its inverters in this country.

The company uses global giant Flextronics to manufacture the units and has shipped more than four million of them to 70 countries in the past seven years.

Nahi said the Enphase micro-inverters differed from traditional inverters as they allowed each solar panel to operate independently, rather than being part of a chain which could lead to the "Christmas light effect" where the failure of one panel could knock out the whole lot.

Traditional inverters also operated at the level of the lowest performing panel, so shade, dust or debris could affect production.

In Australia, a typical solar installation cost about $10,000 and Enphase inverters comprised about 15 per cent to 20 per cent of that. They were more expensive than other technology.

Nahi said the solar industry was booming around the world, but often needed subsidies to help kick start it.

"Solar as an energy source is dependent on government support, at least initially."

In Australia, subsidies helped many home owners install solar units and although government support was being phased out there was high growth.

While Nahi said he did not want to get involved in a political debate here, the Green Party's solar power subsidy plan was attractive to the solar industry.

"There is no question that in the beginning we need the correct policy - they need to be a catalyst and not a crutch."

He said that in the United States there were now 150,000 jobs in the solar industry and growing.

- NZ Herald

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