* Prices under pressure, dropped 17 pct in 2016 - CFO
* Chinese market expected to shrink by 30 pct in 2017
* 2016 net income at 29.6 mln euros, up from 14.3 mln
(Adds quotes, details on new strategy)
By Christoph Steitz
FRANKFURT/DUESSELDORF, March 30 SMA Solar
, Germany's biggest solar company, plans to expand its
energy management business, hoping the market will have higher
entry barriers for Chinese competitors than its core business of
making invertors to feed solar power into the grid.
SMA Solar is the world's largest maker of solar inverters, a
key component in solar plants that convert direct current
generated from panels into alternating current, where it
competes with the likes of SolarEdge and ABB.
But that market has got a lot tougher since China, the
world's largest market, has curbed support to its domestic
industry, leading local suppliers to flood other regions with
their products and pushing down prices.
Among the products in its new drive, SMA will launch
software that enables commercial clients such as supermarkets to
monitor energy flows from systems based on solar panels, air
ventilation, storage and heating, and optimise their costs.
"That is the trend in the energy sector we see over the next
three to five years," Chief Executive Pierre-Pascal Urbon told
journalists at the group's annual press conference on Thursday.
Prices for inverters have tumbled by an average of 10
percent per year since 2010, SMA said, echoing remarks from
panel maker SolarWorld a day earlier.
"Last year, it was even 17 percent," SMA Chief Financial
Officer Ulrich Hadding said.
New energy management products will drive profitability from
next year onwards, Urbon said, declining to be more specific
about the potential size of the market SMA is targeting.
Urbon said the group was planning to enter into cooperation
deals in energy management, where utilities including Innogy
and E.ON as well as engineers such as
Siemens and General Electric are vying for
SMA is forecasting falling sales and profits this year, but
proposed a dividend of 0.26 euros per share for 2016, almost
twice what it paid for 2015 after efficiency gains led its net
profit to double to 29.6 million euros ($32 million).
($1 = 0.9302 euros)
(Editing by Mark Potter)