Power-One (Nasdaq: PWER) is the quiet runner-up in the global photovoltaic inverter market. The firm's bread and butter is the small commercial sector with installation sizes in the 10 kilowatt to 50 kilowatt range, although it looks to be moving to larger-scale sizes.

SMA is the elephant in the inverter market with in excess of a 40 percent market share. But it's a big and fast-growing market, and there's still room for competitors to maneuver -- as evidenced by Power-One's rapid rise from ninth place to second place in the market in just two years. GTM Research sizes the 2010 global PV inverter market as $5.3 billion and the 2011 market in the $5.6 billion to $6 billion range. 

The firm has gone from just 200 megawatts of shipments to more than 1.6 gigawatts and an 11 percent market share in two years. This growth has come from a focus on the European and, more specifically, the Italian market with an estimated 40 to 50 percent market share in Italy.

That leaves the firm overexposed to drastic shifts in the Italian subsidy and Feed-in-Tariff structure -- so Power-One seems to be making a strategic move towards the U.S. market with its expectations of rapid growth. The California-based firm is returning to the U.S. and opening up shop in a big way in Arizona. 

This morning, Power-One held a ribbon-cutting for a manufacturing facility in Phoenix, Arizona that will potentially create over 350 jobs. The grand opening was attended by the usual political suspects -- Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, Arizona Commerce Authority and the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. Power-One's Phoenix facility will produce photovoltaic and wind inverters, with expectations of the manufacturing site reaching an annual inverter production capacity of 1.0 gigawatt by mid 2011.

The firm recently added Dick Swanson, the founder of SunPower to its board of directors and also acquired the assets of solar monitoring startup, Fat Spaniel.

Mark W. Bachman of Auriga USA, an equity research firm, rates the stock as a "Buy" but has concerns over the effect of expansion plans on near-term product margins and longer-term opex. Bachman referred to Power-One as "one of the few U.S.-based renewable names left with real and growing cash flow." Power-One has a market cap of $1.1 billion.

With lower capex and energy cost -- it would seem a bit easier to keep inverter manufacturing in the U.S. compared to PV panel production


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