Siemens goes solar

Siemens Canada has invested $3 million in plant upgrades and is adding 50 new jobs as it takes advantage of the opportunities offered by Ontario’s renewable energy market.

August 8, 2011   by Joe Terrett, Editor

Siemens Canada is now producing SINVERT solar inverters for Ontario’s clean energy market, which the company says should lead to 50 new skilled jobs.

The global electrical engineering and electronics manufacturer hosted media, company executives and local government officials on June 21 for the official production launch of the inverters that convert the direct current (DC) gathered from photovoltaic modules into AC power for Ontario’s electricity grid.

Siemens has invested $3 million in design, testing equipment and plant upgrades to accommodate the new production line that, in fact, has already shipped its first units to solar farms in Ontario. “Our two decades of experience in drives manufacturing enabled us to ramp up production successfully over the last months,” said Anthony Bezina, plant manager at the Siemens Industry Automation and Drives Technologies division facility.

The plant, which currently employs 85 people, has the capacity to produce about 250 megawatts of output, enough to power up to 32,000 homes.

Inverters range in size from 350 kilowatts to 1,400 kilowatts and are assembled on a lean production line that runs through four cells where wiring and harnessing are mounted in enclosures; control electronics are installed; the units are tested under full load; and then set up in HVAC-equipped stations (40 x 8 x 9.6 ft.) that withstand temperature extremes of between -40 to 70 degrees C. The “e-house,” built to withstand Canada’s salty, dusty, high-low temperature environments, is then ready for shipping to a solar installation where it’s a matter of “plug and play.”

The SINVERT inverters work as a master-slave configuration with up to four of them optimizing the energy yield to the solar PV generating facility. Siemens says whatever the weather conditions, the inverters operate close to a maximum efficiency from as low as 3% to 4% nominal power. In such a case, instead of four inverters operating separately, one operates with the load of four.

The system is built for efficiency. Each unit saves up to 43% of the operating time. A rotating master distributes the working load evenly and each morning the unit with the lowest operating hours starts first, while standby units save their time.

PV-WinCC open architecure software operates the system, providing visualization and control. According to the Siemens specs, the software is based on Windows 2000/XP and shows current states, messages, measured data and delivers reports. Data is organized and saved every second in a Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Archive and can be pulled up to provide documented evidence of conformity.

Siemens’ 3,900 square-metre Burlington plant has 10 people currently working on the inverters but the company expects to create 50 skilled jobs in business development, engineering and production to support the product.

Joris Myny, Siemens Canada’s vice-president of the Industry Automation and Drive Technologies division, said the manufacturing of PV inverters in Ontario allows Siemens’ customers investing in commercial and large ground mount applications to meet the “minimum required domestic content level” set by the Ontario government’s feed-in-tariff (FIT) program.

Brad Duguid, Ontario’s Liberal energy minister, on hand at the event to tout Ontario’s long-term energy plan, took the opportunity to fire pre-election shots across Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak’s bow, criticizing the opposition leader’s vow to end the FIT program, and rip up what he called a “shady” $7 billion deal with Samsung to manufacture components in the province. Karlheinz Kaul, CEO of the systems engineering business unit of the Siemens Industry Automation division in Germany, made a point of thanking the Ontario government for its commitment to clean energy and stressed the importance of a “stable” market for business investment.

“Governments jumping in and out creates a lot of confusion and that’s not sustainable,” he said.

Like other renewable energy companies, Siemens has been investing in Ontario’s clean energy market based on the stability offered by the FIT program. It announced in December that its Tillsonburg, Ont. plant will invest $20 million and create up to 300 jobs to make wind turbine blades.

Ontario’s Liberal government says its clean energy economy has so far attracted more than $20 billion in investment and created more than 13,000 jobs.

Whether the job growth continues and companies like Siemens invest any more time and money in Ontario’s renewable energy market will depend on how voters see the issue when they go to the polls in October.

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