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Given the frequent and long hours of power cuts, inverters are a necessity in India.

According to Frost and Sullivan, the Indian power inverter market was worth about Rs 20-22 billion in 2010-11, in terms of revenue. The market is projected to grow at a double-digit rate during the next three to four years. This is likely to be the result of a steady demand from the domestic, small-office home-office, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), commercial, industrial and other sectors.

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The power backup market has also witnessed the entry of many branded suppliers of UPS—a similar product category.

Some prominent inverter/UPS manufacturers in India catering to different sectors are APC by Schneider Electric, Aplab, Uniline, Emerson, Microtek, Genus Power, Su-Kam Power Systems, upsINVERTER.com, Numeric, PEP Infotech, Best Power Equipment (BPE), Luminous, DB Power Electronics, Delta Power Solutions, Kevin Power Solutions, Convergence Power Systems and Ekta Telecommunication & Systems.

Inverters for homes
The demand for power inverters is expected to be robust from the rural and semi-urban areas due to power cuts and load shedding.

“Inverters have reached every part of the country but not every household as yet, as 70 per cent population of our country lives in villages. Now almost all villages have electricity but the supply is highly erratic. Hence for regular and extended supply of electricity, rural population is going in for inverters in their homes. Hence the demand is still huge and shifting from urban areas to rural areas,” says Sanjeev Garg, executive director, PEP Infotech.

Further, as electricity becomes properly available in all villages, rural population will become habitual of electronic appliances. So even during short power cuts, inverters will be demanded by individuals, which will increase the demand further.

“Emergence of new players in the industry itself is an indication that there is much more requirement to fulfl. Untapped markets like rural and semi-urban areas have a big potential in the next couple of years. Also, urban areas still have good potential as the demand versus supply gap for electricity will increase in the coming years. Considering power shortage in India and limited quality players, it will be at least 2020-25 by when one can even start thinking of saturation,” says Kunwer Sachdev, founder and managing director, Su-Kam Power Systems.

Amongst other demand drivers, “there is a huge demand, and also a surge, because of the replacement market, where an older UPS can be replaced with the manufacturer’s buyback plan,” informs Amitansu Satpathy, director-marketing, BPE India.

However, there are some factors responsible for fluctuation in demand.“The demand is decreasing due to better electricity distribution networks, increased electricity availability and frequent season changes. This year shortened spans of summer heat could be blamed for the lower demand,” reasons Yogesh Dua, partner, upsIN-VERTER.com.

Inverters for offices
In many offices, inverters are catching up as an alternative backup power solution for non-critical applications such as emergency lighting and to run non-life supporting equipment in clinics and hospitals. High-capacity inverters are also used to operate lifts, air-conditioners, air coolers, elevators and even telecom applications. In small offices,these are used to operate EPABXs, phones, fax machines, laboratory equipment, etc.

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Inverters are cleaner than DG sets as they do not produce smoke. As some of the features are almost like UPS systems, they can be used in the SOHO and SMB sector as prime power backup devices.

Inverters and UPS: What’s the difference
UPS and inverter terms are used interchangeably. A UPS (uninterruptible power supply) is just a system that allows instant switchover to the power backup source in the event of a power failure. Home UPS are inverters with built-in UPS featuring over- and under-voltage protection which can be used to run computers too along with other electronic appliances so that the PC is not affected by wide voltage fluctuations. Also, the PC doesn’t reboot as changeover time from mains to battery is fast.

Home segment: assemblers at a disadvantage
Inverters are an integral part of our daily life. These are used all the time but purchased only once in a few years. A non-standard product can cause bigger losses to the user than the cost of the inverter system itself. With a poor-quality power-backup system, the user also runs the risk of damage to his costly home appliances. In fact, non-standard and locally assembled inverter can be risky for use at home.

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Latest technology, high quality standards in production, and good service and support make branded inverters better than those assembled locally by unorganised players.

“In the inverter industry, the key to success is a robust and reliable design that can withstand steep fluctuationsand high voltages up to 440 volts and phase-to-phase input in rural areas. Also, good after-sales service plays a very important role in this field As demand is shifting from urban to rural areas, small players cannot afford to service the needs of customers in every nook and corner. Hence companies having better design and a strong service network still have competitive edge over others. The inverter assemblers findit difficultto provide robust and economical design as well as prompt after-sales service,” explains Garg.

“The part-time assemblers have borne the biggest brunt in this industry. The demands have lowered, so the competition is immense, and so are the discounts and schemes—ultimately lowering the inverter price below the reach of part-time assemblers. The biggest threat is from established players themselves. They decrease the prices expecting more demand, which is practically not there and therefore nobody wins in the end,” adds Dua.

 

Considering power shortage in India and limited quality players, it will be at least 2020-25 by when one can even start thinking of saturation

—Kunwer Sachdev, founder and managing director, Su-Kam Power Systems

Level of Technology
“The inverters and UPS manufactured in India are the most intelligent in the world as these are made to withstand tough Indian power conditions and also for longer life and rugged performance. They are much better than the imported products,” says Manoj Jain, vice president, Microtek International.

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“No other country makes so robust designs that can withstand fluctuation from 90 to 440 volts and even phase-to-phase inputs in place of a single phase. Moreover, such robust designs come with intelligent features which monitor several parameters and display them on an LCD for users’ benefits.The displayed parameters may include load level in percentage to efficiently manage the load, backup battery level indicator to avoid sudden blackouts, messages to reduce excess load, diagnostic messages, mains voltage, charging current level and mains off,” informs Garg.

“Different users with a variety of needs are the driving force for new features and greater intelligence in the systems made in India. ICT-enabled systems make it possible to remotely monitor and control the power backup systems from any point. A simple mobile command can give the user the full monitoring and control of his power backup system,” adds Sachdev.

Design and manufacturing
It’s really difficult to make a robust design with intelligent algorithm unless the manufacturer has a proper R&D set-up. Only a few companies have really been successful in making intelligent inverters with robust design.

Industrial UPS

The overall UPS market size is about Rs 35 billion in India. The current economic situation is turbulent and, to some extent, the Indian market is also affected because of the impact on the European market, which is showing a dip. But the sales to government, education and ITES markets are growing.

Earlier, the market was growing annually at a rate of 15-20 per cent. Now it is growing at 8-10 per cent. Lower-kVA UPS are generally imported from outside India, while higher-rating UPS are manufactured within the country.

The main challenges before industrial UPS manufactures are:
1. Price inflation due to import rate
2. Indian manufacturers have to bear the cost for transportation of goods from one state to another
3. Criteria for VAT/road permits for interstate movement

Top trends
1. The government is investing a lot in IT and computing segments
2. Infrastructure projects like airports and education increasing
3. Power monitoring projects coming in India

Top wishes
1. Reduce transport checks at multiple checkpoints
2. As excise duty and various formalities consume a lot of time, there is need to push online facility—thus ensuring paperless and green monitoring

—Suhas Joshi, director-UPS, Delta Power Solutions

Components’ availability is not much of a problem, except the variable cost of semiconductor devices and commodity items, especially power semiconductor devices and copper for transformers used in inverters and lead for batteries. Almost all the components are readily available in India. Only critical components like MOSFETs, microcontrollers and triacs are imported for the inverters made in India.

Focus areas
Energy-efficiency Focus is shifting towards energy-effciency. Imposing star ratings’ compulsion over inverters and UPS will not only help the consumers choose the right product but quality manufacturers will also get their dues in a standardised yet competitive market.

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Thankfully, inverters and UPS will soon be covered under the standards and labelling (S&L) programme of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency(BEE). The S&L programme will empower manufacturers to self-certify the products by adopting approval testing procedures.

Renewable energy systems. Renewable energy systems help to generate and save the power. Integration of these technologies with upcoming innovations will target new potential markets with more energy efficiency.

 

The key to success is a robust and reliable design that can withstand steep ἀuctuations and high voltages up to 440 volts and phase-to-phase input in rural areas

—Sanjeev Garg, executive director, PEP Infot

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Rural markets. “About 75-80 per cent of the rural market in India is untouched. There is a huge opportunity for economical and user-friendly inverters in rural area,” informs N.K. Mishra, chairman and managing director, Ekta Telecommunication & Systems.

Battery disposal. Inverter batteries have disposal issues. Safe disposal of used batteries is necessary as these contain toxic elements that can harm the environment. This problem can be solved by improving the technology to recycle the batteries. The used batteries should end up only with the authorised recyclers.

“As per the newly proposed guidelines for battery disposal, the entire responsibility rests with the sellers. Instead of putting all the responsibility of battery disposal on the manufacturer’s network, it should be a collective responsibility of society as a whole. There should be some compulsions on the buyers’ side as well. Otherwise, it would either be harsh for manufacturers or unimplementable,” feels Dua.

There is a need to create awareness amongst dealers, distributors, channel partners and customers about safe disposal of used batteries as per battery management and handling rules of the government.

With improvements in the inverter design, however, the life of batteries is increasing, which is decreasing the menace of battery disposal bulk slowly. Also, increasing use of LED lights will increase the battery life substantially.

Way to go
The government can encourage R&D and innovation by way of reducing taxes on R&D and innovative products, particularly green energy products. In particular, it should:
1. Reduce the value-added tax on inverters in all states to 4 per cent from 13.5 per cent as this product is not a luxury item and it improves the infrastructure substantially.
2. Set up some more test labs in northern India to promote R&D for rugged design.
3. Give further incentives to promote usage of solar inverters with LED lighting output as these are eco-friendly.

Su-Kam has implemented an open platform to foster the culture of innovation. A motivation with new ways of collaborative creation and exchange of ideas generates new methods and ideas for making the product more efficientand unique.

The government, on its part, can play a seminal role in innovation by investment in R&D. Laying the right business conditions for innovations generated in India will make the investment done in R&D economically feasible as profit are generated.


The author is an executive editor at EFY

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