Three-phase string inverters are the workhorses of distributed solar projects. CPS America is the market-leading manufacturer of commercial and utility string inverters with over 10,000 operating sites in North America. Their 125 kW product is extremely popular in community solar and now they are launching 250 and 275 kW products ideal for 5 to 150 MW projects.
CPS America is the maker of North America’s number one 3-phase string inverter, with over 6GW shipped in the US. They recently released their flagship product the, 250/275kW inverter, designed for solar sites from 2 MW to 2 GW. The 200kW/200kVA high-power CPS three-phase energy storage inverter is designed for commercial and utility-scale grid-tied energy storage systems.
In this episode of the Clean Power Hour, Bryan Wagner, the President of CPS America, joins Tim Montague to discuss their new flagship inverter technology, what makes their product so popular, their out-of-the-box monitoring system, and much more.
Bryan Wagner has been in the renewable energy industry since 2008. He started in the O&M industry before transitioning to inverters.
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Chint was number one market share has been number one market share in the last six or seven years in three phase string, then we expect the same this year. So hopefully soon we'll land seven of eight years in row. And I think the reason for that is, is not maybe going after the next shiny object.Tim Montague:
The Clean Power Hour is brought to you by the Clean Power Consulting Group, check out all of our content and clean power hour.com Give us a rating and review on Apple and Spotify to help others find this content. We are growing the energy transition, one podcast at a time, one guest at a time. Today on the Clean Power Hour. Brian Wagner, he is the President of CPS America. Welcome to the show, Brian.Bryan Wagner:
Great to have you. Thank you. .Tim Montague:
Brian, It's been great getting to know you over the years and see Chint Power Systems growing their footprint here in North America. You're a well known brand in the Midwest, with the advent of community solar, being such a big phenomenon with your 125 Kw product. But we're going to talk about your larger inverters, your 250 and 275 Kw 1500 volt inverters, which are now going after the utility scale. But give our listeners a little bit of background on yourself. How did you come to the energy industry? And how did you come to CIT?Bryan Wagner:
Sure, yeah, thank you, Tim. I appreciate it. It's great to be on today. And to be talking with you again. I'm sorry, we missed each other at the RA plus show a couple weeks ago. But that was quite a quite a fun event. And good to see some old friends. I mean, obviously, we set a lot of records with attendance. So you know, the demand and obviously the size of the industry continuing to grow is so exciting. But yeah, I actually got into solar, probably like a lot of folks around that time. It was 2008. It was one of those things, there was really no jobs. So I really kind of more of a part time basis, learning about the industry jumping on, at that time, small commercial and residential roofs. Yeah, it was something that, you know, I knew I just wanted to be a part of, I'm based in New Jersey there. So there's something back at that time called S Rex energy credits that were just starting, and people didn't really know what they are. Obviously, the returns were were very fast. And I just knew, you know, the industry was going to grow. I think around that time, there was probably less than 10,000 people in the industry. And I think now we're approaching 300,000. So very time to get in, obviously, grown quite a bit since then. And there's so many more large companies. Yesterday, I was at an investment conference, there's so many big investment companies coming in now. And it's just really exciting. So yeah, that's kind of how I started and I didn't really get fully into my career benefit and solar, you know, benefits and getting into like, you know, an actual company and so maybe 2009 2010 You know, again, there was very few jobs at that time. So probably finally at Vance energy in 2011 is when kind of found my home or my niche in the industry in the inverter side actually started off in the OEM business gentleman named Joe Brotherton, fortunately hired me emigrate mentor taught me a lot about the online business. And then I pivoted at advanced energy to work under another mentor, Kevin birdie in the inverter business, and he told me the inverter business. So that's where I still am today.Tim Montague:
I'm glad you mentioned our E plus, if you're not familiar with already, plus, they host the largest solar and storage conference here in North America. And there there were 27,027 to 29,000 people in Anaheim this past September. They also have regional events. So just Google rd plus events and you'll see they have him in the Northeast, the southeast, the southwest, the Midwest, all over the place. And you know, New Jersey is one of the more mature markets. So I don't think it's an accident that that you know, you're based in New Jersey and those those early day s Rex in New Jersey were very generous. That's what's our way to jumpstart markets. We have an aspect market here in Illinois. We are the most robust solar market in the Midwest because of the s rec market that we have right? It makes for a competitive power purchase agreement. it incentivizes developers to develop community solar projects, and to bring solar to low and middle income consumers so many good things. And it's a win win because we're cleaning the grid we're shutting down Cole and natural gas power plants and replacing them with distributed generation and utility scale solar wind and battery storage across the country. And across the globe. Solar is now the fastest growing new source of power on the North American grid and you wouldn't know it right. Unless you're in the industry but but it's it's a growing footprint. But when you go to those mature markets like New Jersey and New York, Massachusetts you see solar everywhere, and same in colour Rado, Arizona, California, here in the Midwest where we're playing catch up, but it's starting to take shape and and you're starting to notice it. So it's just great to be part of this very fast growing industry, which is really good for our future as a species. So let's dive into 10 power systems, you know, you are pretty much a household name in the solar industry, of course, every solar professional knows about cient Well, first of all, I guess, why is that? How is chin been so successful? And and and then what do you want to highlight in terms of the roadmap and, and the products that are just now coming out onto the market?Bryan Wagner:
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think I would say, you know, cient really got its start globally, probably in the mid 2000s, you know, 2005 or so it studied a lot of the different markets, emerging markets, and the US being one of them. So we are a global company. You know, I, I work here and CPS America, and I would say, when I was at Advanced Energy, we actually made it back then advanced energy made an acquisition of a brand called refu soul, which was a three phase string technology from Germany, you know, they were developing their own product that they felt they can get to market a little bit faster with the three phase string, and they were, you know, Advanced Energy had two different central inverter brands, PV power, as well as solar on, you know, back then was number one market share, probably six or seven years and utility scale, advanced energy. So we were really successful converting a lot of our, say, rooftop projects to string because of the new code in 2014, that was coming in where you have it, but at that time, you had to mount the inverters on the roof within 10 foot foot of the array. So that's really what had string take off in the US. And obviously, it was in Europe for probably 510 years earlier. So there was many benefits, right? The lightweight, you're no longer pouring and pad, I mean, there was many benefits that we all know today, from stringer Central on smaller projects, right back then, a 100 200 kilowatt project was very popular for even Central. And then that all started converting the string, you know, it took a while for string to take off, say more than a megawatt project. And obviously chant was at the forefront of that. So I left to Vance energy. And as I was leaving, you know, this name cient had come come on the scene pretty pretty fast. They actually were studying the US market and what technology they can bring to the market for quite some time. Actually, Casey Miller, and he talks who also were mentors of mine, really helped commercialise Chen get the business off the ground, probably around that 2013 2014 timeframe. And I think that's it obviously benefits any business to focus on one thing, and one thing they focused on those three pay string, and that's still where we live today. That's still our main focus today.Tim Montague:
For our listeners, let's paint a picture of why string inverters are an advantage in many circumstances, and I'll lay out my understanding, which is, you know, medium to advanced. But let's say you have a one megawatt CNI project. And you could do a one megawatt central inverter, okay? And, and then you could do 10 100 Kw inverters. And today, you would only consider doing 10 100 Kw inverters. And you're talking about a physical box that is much smaller and lighter, so that two workers can carry that box around on the site. If it needs to be replaced. You can easily do that without a crane, for example. And then there's line losses DC line losses are a significant consideration. Right? If you're if you only have one inverter, then all of the power is running through the array for a bigger with greater distances, right? Then getting to the inverter before it's converted to AC. And those losses mean fewer kWh from your solar array. And kWh is really the bottom dollar in solar right you're trying to squeeze as much kWh out of a particular footprint out of available roof space or ground space. And and then there's Oh nm considerations right when inverters need to be upgraded or replaced then you have a much easier time with the string inverters doing that. And then you have less downtime right because if a central inverter is down then the whole power plant is down and you can have significant losses, you know, and sometimes there are supply chain She was, you know, here in Champaign Urbana, we have a five megawatt project at the University of Illinois. It's a solar farm one, and it has central inverters. And one of the inverters was down for several months. And they were waiting on a part. And so that was just a major loss for the, for the university and for the, the owner of that asset. But have I painted an accurate picture? And what are some of the nuances, Brian, that differentiates string inverters from central inverters?Bryan Wagner:
You absolutely did. Yeah, that was clear. I think. I think back at advance energy days, we had a 30 kilowatt inverter that was 3000 pounds, it was definitely a big clunky machine. And, you know, I want to say our 30 kilowatt inverter nowadays is probably approaching 50 pounds. So it's quite a difference. If you look at our 250 kilowatt, it's about 250 pounds, we're launching actually, next year, we'll have a 350 kilowatt, which is about the same weight about 250 pounds. And of course, our 5060 101 25 class of inverters is right around 150 pounds. So it's, uh, you know, total, like, the powerhead in the wire box are separable. So they're two different boxes. But you know, it's much easier to service like you're saying to him, of course. And so really, it's about I think, thinking ahead in your plan, when you're when you're designing three years, five years, 10 years out what what happens when things go wrong, when inverters break, or there's, you know, nuisance issues or, or challenges how quickly quickly can you service the plant? Yes, string has definitely been very beneficial for that. If you look at a one megawatt central back in the day, there's probably 8000 pounds. And in total, you know, you could probably have a one megawatt array now for obviously, you know, 100 pounds a box. So it's multiple, you know, multiple steps throughout the array or the lifecycle of the array that can save you just from the weight alone. But yeah, the ship and replace model to like you said, you had project in Illinois with five megawatt wind, I'd say one challenging and Burr, you know, of course, there's been many brands along the along the way here that have not survived, even though they've had very healthy companies. In fact, he was one of them, still a very big public company today, probably over a billion dollar company, but they just pivoted from solar from the inverter business, it really comes down to the service cost. And that percentage of revenue is really where I've always seen the market going is it's more about our kind of company, how can they maintain their business right and keep a healthy growing business that makes you know, makes a profit or turns a profit with central murder, it's very hard, very challenging, because every almost every every unit that you deploy, eventually catches up to your operations and has an impact on your your OP x, right? Your service Boston Business.Tim Montague:
Hey, everybody, thanks for listening to the Clean Power Hour or viewing it on YouTube. We do have a great YouTube channel. If you're not subscribed, please go to clean power dot group, and hit that YouTube icon and subscribe to our channel. Of course, you can find all of our content on your favourite audio platform as well. So please give us a rating and review back to the show. Yeah. So these, the string inverters are kind of going through this arms race as well. Now, they, they started smaller, you know, 3060, then 100, then 125 150, down to 50 to 75. We see a lot of 125 Kw inverters here in Illinois, because we have a two megawatt AC solar market. Now, that's a five megawatt solar market. The rules have changed. Right. And and so it's a combination of the landscape changing from a jurisdictional perspective and, and legislation. And, and then there's also the technology. You know, 125 is great for two megawatts because you have 16 inverters. It just fits nicely. But let's talk about 270 fives, you are winning some some utility scale work with the 275. And I guess, when you I'm curious when you talk to EPCs and developers about their work and your your products. What are the advantages of of a 275 versus a central competitor? Whether that's I don't know a five or 10 megawatt inverter? I don't know what I know little about central inverters relatively speaking. So paint us a picture there.Bryan Wagner:
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. What's interesting that same two megawatt example are 250s active power controlled, so are after power rating adjustable, so it could be 250 or 270. Thought to actually up and you can cut your inverter count for that same plant now and half. So if you think about, you know, each unit that you're purchasing has a better price per watt, but you're also eliminating half of the units. So it's a significant savings on the capex, and even on the operations of the plant, right, there's only eight devices. Now, I think the benefit, the main benefit of straying in that example is you still have 250 kilowatt blocks that you know, when you're down when you lose one and burn very seldom, if ever have I seen, you know, right now cient manages, we have about 10,000 solar plants, we have a little over six gigawatts of three phase string out in the field, only three phase drink, you know, we've done a handful of maybe 20, energy storage projects, but everything else we've done has been three phase string. So we have a good sample size, and very, very rarely do you see more than one unit down at a time. If however, for me personally. So I think in that example, you're only losing 250. The same rule applies to your five megawatt block, right, you'd likely use the larger building block for larger plant size. And we're also offering we just shipped 100 and 104 megawatt good, actually, we're doing 22 skits, when we say skids, that's MV station. So the medievals of transformers and low voltage equipment, aux power and then the inverter chips separate, it was almost 350 to 75. And burgers or a plant can 104 megawatts, but you're building those as blocks, I think it's 4.1 to five megawatt blocks. You know, that's what's great about string is it's also you can in development, obviously your plant size changes, there's so many things that can change on the developers end, and string gives the developer that flexibility. So I think you know, you were mentioning the the lifecycle of our inverter line, or just the inverter technology over time, we actually started with the 14 and 20, then when 20 320-836-5060, and then into the 101 25. And now 252 75. And like I said, next year, you have the 350. So all those classes, I want to say for teens and 20s was 100 kilowatt, maybe up to a megawatt that most than 2328, that's you up to maybe a megawatt was typical two megawatts at most, the 36 is really where we saw kind of what we would say small utility, or, you know, large commercial, maybe three megawatts, you know, that's what we used to call. And then the 5060, really, we burst on the scene with that product that's still, I'd say, our flagship product today for what we're known for. We've shipped over 50,000 units of the 5060 kilowatt, done all kinds of big box retailer, locations, all the all the famous brands, and you know that 5060, we also did like a 12 megawatt ground, right. But nowadays, like the 101 25, easily 510 megawatt plant, up to 20 megawatt plants, we've done a couple larger, maybe we did a 90 megawatt, we've done some larger plans, but it's rare, probably north of 20 megawatts is rare. But the 250 to 75. Now with much larger size, it's an 800 volt output. It's really meant for utility, and I would say 20 megawatts and Up is where we've seen a tonne of demand on that product, you know, especially at RM plus, we probably learned a couple of gigawatts of string projects that that will go string. Hopefully they go with Gen, and hopefully they go with us. But that's kind of the evolution that we've seen. Yeah,Tim Montague:
that's one of the things that I love about the clean energy industry is there is constant evolution. And, you know, it was a big deal in 2017 that 125 kW, inverters were, were breaking onto the scene. And now it's the 250s and 270 fives and, and there is this, you know, medium scale utility market. Of course, there's a there's a robust utility market, which is 100 megawatt plus projects, 100 megawatt two gigawatt scale. You know, we have a 1.3 gigawatt solar farm being built in Indiana now, and, and many 100 to 600 megawatt projects in all the Midwestern states, you know, whether that's Indiana or Illinois, or Wisconsin or Iowa, and, you know, but if you're an EPC or a developer, I guess, Brian, and you know, there there there is a cadre of tried and true brands. And, you know, I'll just mention a few of the better known ones, those are SMA and Fronius for for CNI. And, and then there's, you know, some other brands that are well known in the larger utility space, power electronics sungrow. So there's there's this very A very robust competition for our attention, so to speak as developers and EPCs. What is it that sets cient? apart? And why are? Why are your customers migrating? or staying with cient?Bryan Wagner:
Good question. Yeah, thank you, Tim, I think, to say bigger, you know, or more experience, probably the Easy, easy route to go, I would say, chin was number one market share has been number one market share in the last six or seven years in three phase string, then we expect the same this year. So hopefully, soon, we'll learn seven of eight years in a row. And I think the reason for that is, is not maybe going after the next shiny object market. I think the energy storage market is a perfect example. Obviously, it's been a it's a very challenging market. It's very challenging technology. There's very big challenges on supply chain, as everybody knows, and I think we've stayed very focused on what we do. We didn't really go after residential. We didn't go after energy storage, we didn't even really go after utility. I think we've let the we've let the markets come to us. And we've let the technology grow up. Really the IGBT the the ability to go larger building blocks didn't exist a few years ago, like it does today. And technology didn't exist. So I think we're not you're never tried to push your technology to too far, right? I mean, we, you know, listen, we want to 90 megawatt, with 125. But it didn't maybe necessarily belong, more haven't probably do with safe harbour than anything, isn't necessarily maybe belong on those sites. And I think we've done a really good job of that, where we play in our market, and it's our niche. And then that niche, fortunately, has grown for us, you know, if you're building a 50 megawatt plant today, you know, I would say one out of every two developers out there starting to consider string on that size plant. Whereas three years ago, string didn't even make its way to the conversation. So I think our main focus has been to build our business and our team to be able to handle complexity that comes with with running an inverter business, you know, inverter business is not really that profitable, have a business, right. So I think it's pretty, pretty heavy in manufacturing. So there's definitely some barriers to entry. But I think it comes down to how we can operate and we've done a really good job with the 10,000 plants that we manage, being able to, to keep our our field service team lean, but you know, manage the projects, and deliver you know, we say, you know, delivering our customers the best uptime you know, if you think about it, really that's the business we feel we're in, you know, kind of like your, your cell phone provider or your internet service provider, where your inverter service provider, you're really buying us for our service. Now we do make, you know, maybe you'd call it the the inverter the these days where it's so small, lightweight in the iPhone, if you will. So we make the hardware but we also make, or we also are very well known for, you know, getting purchasing the hardware so you can get into our service network. And you know, you can work with our team. So we have a very big team out of Texas. James Oswald's, our service director down there has been with us, probably almost eight years does a tremendous job. We have leaders like Robert Perez was who's one of our field service engineers in Massachusetts, David, who's a former NextEra, wind field engineer, we have, you know, and also we have a very strong apps engineering team, right. And I've worked with, I don't know if you know, the likes of say John Foster, Ephram, Tegrity Monty, these are kind of, I'd say, more apps, engineering, legends, and in the business, at CPS, we have some of our own as well, Steven bound or John drum and, and, you know, we do a lot of that upfront work to ensure that, you know, it's not just a string sizing tool, ensure that we can, can lay out the inverters are the way that, you know, you're thinking about service of the plant, and I think we train our customers really well, you know, they they try us, they stay with us and then, you know, improves over time because things change over time.Tim Montague:
Service is such an important component, you know, you need, you need a product that is affordable, but is also very reliable. And then when you need parts and service, you can get them in a timely manner. Right. And, you know, these are very sophisticated pieces of electronics or conglomerates of electronics, were you know, 100 kW inverter is like a suitcase. And, but but, so you're you're you're monitoring that, I guess we should talk a little bit about, you know, what is your out of the box monitoring system? How does it plug and play with other monitoring systems like also energy? And then what is the what is the experience that an EPC can expect? Or a Oh nm provider when they're interfacing with CPS America?Bryan Wagner:
Yeah, so we have some technology that effectively allows us to pass through the inverter data to the also Energy Monitoring portal, as well as to our own service team. So we can do the remote diagnostic, I think that's definitely given us an advantage. I think it's more to still do with the the humans and the team, that it is the technology, the technology is kind of similar across the board. In my opinion, I think it's more how, you know, not just hiring the experts, but how the team works together. You know, I think chin has been a very strong curl culture, place to work internally, we've created, you know, long standing careers for many, you know, one of our guys have been with us almost 15 years in service, you know, I think from that, then that takes care of the customer, right? It's like, you know, there's a lot of companies that I'd say, nickel and dime over the service cost and rolling a truck and this and that we don't do that, we kind of realise that it's, you know, taken care of, it's part of our business, right? It's like, Hey, if you have a nuisance out of an inverter, say a fault on number four, that's our problem. That's not the developer, the owners problem. You know, it certainly we share a lot of times and that challenge, and there's been challenges along the way, many come up. But I think it's the way we've approached the, you know, keeping the plants online, the reason we won that 105 megawatt plant, we had lunch with the, you know, the owners, and finally, the last decisions were getting made. And they said, we just want we want you guys to get us to as close to 100% uptime as possible. Maybe the numbers 9697 98% whatever that number is, we just felt like we we visited your your facility in Texas, we just invested quite a bit into our new facility in Dallas, right outside Dallas and Richardson. So we have a lab that we actually can contest 100 Of all the equipment. You know, we can we can really do. We have our own doc centre. So we monitor the plants from the NA, we have a couple of things that we do unique there when they visited that they were realising Wow. You know, chins, kind of, you know, they said, we even want to help you get into this utility scale. And they have gigawatts that we're, we're working on with them right now, over say, the next three to five years. And I think you'll see, three to five years from now very similar to say Europe or, you know, Asia, a lot of parts of Asia this way today, you know, 80 90% of plans are designed with shrink, right? Utility scales design with string, there's just such benefits to it. And I think you'll see that in the next three to five years for for the US as well.Tim Montague:
You mentioned that you are working on a 350. Is that right? That's correct. Yeah. And do you foresee you know, going even larger, like 500 kW,Bryan Wagner:
right now the 1500 volt classroom numbers we first brought in, I think one of the things Chin's thought about a lot and goes back to probably someone like Casey, from a product side. And certainly our r&d team, we always want to maybe we don't always need to be first to the market with a product but we always want to be maybe second or third or even close to first. But we want to be thinking about flexibility and how can we think about the wire box or options that that we give our customers or designers to work with us. So so the 101 25 was a perfect example of that because we came out with both a centralised stringing bird inversion and a distributed so your traditional string where you have the DC combiner attached to the power head, it is separable wire box which has since been very well known for years for that, but we also offer that centralised version, that centralised version where you can one run one long run back to the inverter and kind of build the plant like a central plant. Virtual Central is kind of what got coined. That also took off and we probably had 50% of our customers go virtual Central 50% Go distributed. Right now we're offering distributed for the larger size, but we're working on other things and I would say more to come on that network not yet. But more to come on that and I think you know kitchen will continue to offer the flexibility as we get into 350 to 350. We have some customers already designing seven 100 megawatt projects with the 350. So I know that one will really, you know, do well as well.Tim Montague:
You know, one of the other hot topics in string inverters is rapid shutdown. If there is any kind of a problem with the solar array, you want it to turn off and not aggravate the circumstances, so to speak. What is your strategy? And and are you? Are you working with other manufacturers of power electronics closely on that particular topic?Bryan Wagner:
We are we are Yeah, I mean, we've probably done, I would say, in the neighbourhood of 250 to 300 projects now, with rapid shutdown. I mean, we might be north of that maybe approaching 500. Nowadays, I'm not not exactly sure. But we've done quite a bit. And I think this first started coming reality, maybe 2017 2018, as the code was changing, the technology started become available, obviously, solar edge has, has done a tremendous job and dominated that market for a long time and still does really well in that market. We think optimization is there's, there's pros and cons. I think, obviously, we always think in terms of less Park cow and easy to service and in less headaches down the road is been our, you know, our approach. And I think with rapid shutdown, there are some interesting things going over technology. Today we are working with three brands, NEP, APS and tiga. You know, each of them has, you know, different advantages. And I think we've had a lot of success in that arena, you know, C and I business, you know, solar edge, obviously, very strong residential background, you know, years past has been on every other home. I think for CPS, we've had close to 50% market share. So almost every other commercial projects for many, many years. So I think that's our goal is, we want to continue to do really well in that CNI space and come up with new technology, the 5060 kilowatt, we've had different designs over the years above 5060. But it's a really good building block. It's a really good size. And I think what's more important than anything to our customers is it's a very reliable number. It's probably the best inverter I've been around, you know, for a rooftop application, that's the most important, right, if you have technical challenges on an inverter, when that happens on the ground, it's just different than a route. So I think, you know, as much as rapid shutdown is important, I think a reliable machine, you know, inverter machine is, is probably more important.Tim Montague:
Cool. Well, I want to encourage our listeners to check out all of our content at Clean Power hour.com. Please give us a rating and a review on Apple or Spotify. That helps others find this content. We are speeding the energy transition here at the Clean Power Hour and we need your support. I want to thank Brian Wagner for coming on the show. He is the president of cinta Power Systems America. Brian, how can our listeners find you?Bryan Wagner:
Oh, thank you. Yeah. Thanks for having me on the show. So my email is Brian dot Wagner at Chin power.com. So that's Brian with a why. Yeah, that's the best way you know, certainly. I'm also on LinkedIn. But you know, I think our team can always, always get a hold of me. So we have, we have four offices, one in New Jersey, where I am our headquarters in Dallas and then two in California. So you know, we have a lot of folks that can help support.Tim Montague:
Awesome. Well, thank you so much. And with that, I'm Tim Montague. Let's grow solar and storage. Have a great day everyone.