2 August 2006


Interview with Christoph von Bergen; Managing Director Sputnik Engineering AG

Sputnik is a company that is very active and is now globally promoting the SolarMax brand. How did production/sales of Sputnik grow during 2005 compared to 2004?
In 2004 we sold SolarMax inverters with a total output of 90 megawatts. Last year, despite the lack of modules, we were able to increase our sales by 17 per cent; we produced inverters with a total output of 105 megawatts.


How do silicon shortages in the PV module supply chain influence the inverter market?
Above all the silicon shortages had an effect on the sales of string inverters. In contrast to our central inverters, we sell our string inverters, which we offer in outputs ranging from 1.8 to 4.6 kilowatts, solely through our wholesalers. Because our wholesalers did not receive the expected module quantities due to the silicon shortages, about 25 percent of the planned new photovoltaic installations were not built.

That we were still able, however, to increase our sales of inverter total output lies with our SolarMax central inverters, which we offer in outputs ranging from 20 to 300 kilowatts. In this market segment, we lead worldwide. No other company sold so many central inverters as Sputnik Engineering did – just in 2005 the quantity of units sold was more than 1,500. During this year we will produce a further 800 central inverters.


There are many inverter manufacturers (some 40 or more) active on the global PV market. What are Sputniks USPs to survive in this business?
Already in 1991, we founded Sputnik Engineering AG as a spin-off company from the
University of Applied Sciences in Biel, Switzerland. Since then we have steadily continued to develop our technologies and were able to report enormous growth rates. Out of a two-man company, a company with 60 employees grew. In addition, eight persons work at our subsidiary in Stockach (Baden-Württemberg), and 60 more full-time employees are working for us in outsourced areas.

We are committed to photovoltaics with our heart and soul and have a pioneering spirit. We only offer inverters for grid-connected photovoltaic systems. Thanks to our long-term experience and our focus, we are far ahead in relation to most of our competitors.

According to our basic values – clever, powerful and convincing – we are constantly striving to advance photovoltaic technology with our products. We create lasting customer relationships with simple solutions.
Our devices are characterised not only by a competitive price/performance ratio, an excellent availability and an effective and customer-orientated after sales service. Our SolarMax inverters also achieve the highest yields thanks to the excellent efficiency that can even be 97 per cent.


Do you expect major changes and a shake-out in this market?
We think that due to the increasing competition it will become more and more difficult for smaller companies to invest in the development of new products themselves. Independent medium-sized companies that do not have an additional lucrative business branch need enough equity capital to survive on the market. The increasing competitive pressure is making this business model, however, even more difficult.

Therefore, inverter manufacturers are getting increasingly nervous, which is reflected in dumping prices, the utopian after-sales service being offered and technically poorly conceived products.

We assume that several suppliers will soon vanish into thin air. Others, by contrast, will go into joint ventures or be swallowed up by global players who are looking for a quick entry into the market.

Thanks to a well thought-out strategy, Sputnik will be able to retain its entrepreneurial freedom in the future.


Will the industrial and market developments currently taking place in
China be a threat or an opportunity for the inverter business and your company?
It is difficult to estimate the further development of the grid-connected photovoltaic market in
China. Even if the Chinese market should develop very strongly, China will certainly not tolerate the import of finished products in larger quantities.

The competition from Asia will, however, continue to grow in our own markets. Their success will depend, above all, on whether they know the regional conditions such as standards and guidelines and whether they offer an effective after-sales service.


What are the most important new developments in the inverter as a product and what can the market expect from your products?
We think that the area of data communication and system monitoring will become more and more important for photovoltaic systems. At the photovoltaic symposium in Bad Staffelstein in March, we will, therefore, present our new SolarMax Web Portal for the first time. It impresses due to its flexibility and can be configured according to customers’ requirements. Further innovative solutions for system monitoring and data communication will follow during this year.

Sputnik’s competent development department will continue to grow and create innovative solutions for grid-connected photovoltaics. We have new string and central inverters in the pipeline which will convince our customers of our abilities in the future. You can expect the highest efficiencies and maximum availability from our inverters. Our inverters are extremely reliable – and that is regularly certified by the TÜV (Technical Inspection Authority). The price of our devices is also very attractive; processing our devices has consciously been made simple. In addition, we offer a comprehensive service package with guarantees of up to 20 years.



What will Sputnik look like five years from now?
Sputnik will also remain a leader in 2011 among the manufacturers of grid-connected solar inverters. Thanks to our highly motivated and competent employees, we will continue to grow dynamically, remain agile on the market and convince our customers with our effective products.

The European market will also have the highest priority for us in 2011, and we will also be among the favourites in the future. In addition to the German market, the other European markets will increasingly gain importance for us. Already in April this year we are opening our own branch office in Spain, since we want to export 15 megawatts there in 2006. We are also armed for the Italian market since all SolarMax string inverters are certified according to Italian requirements.

We will have established ourselves by 2011 in the USA. On the Asian market we expect to have the first, larger successes at this point of time.

I am looking forward to the coming five years since they will be demanding for Sputnik, but also very exciting.


Thank you for the interview!

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