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12/04/2012 01:23 PM     print story email story  

Another Problem for Solar Industry: Declining Quality News

Competitive pressures resulting from the worldwide solar equipment glut and plummeting panel prices may be causing  yet another problem for the solar market - poorly made solar panels. 

Solar manufacturers seem to be cutting corners on the quality of their components, some say.

Executives involved in solar materials, performance testing and  on-site factory monitoring are reporting rising defect rates that range from 5.5% to 22%, reports Renewable Energy World.

Penny-pinching is leading some companies to use substandard materials for components and to emphasize speed over workmanship. 

For example, some manufacturers are using less silicone to attach junction boxes to the back of panels, which can cause them to fall off and create fire hazards.

In the “industry as a whole, quality is suffering. You think you are going bankrupt in three months, so your priority will be on cash flows and not quality,” Jenya Meydbray, CEO of testing company PV Evolution Labs, told Renewable Energy World. “That means cutting corners to get a few cents per watt out of your cost so that you can start to squeeze out a little bit of the margin.”

Another testing and quality control company, SolarBuyer, is seeing average defect rates of 8.8%.

The problems aren't limited to Chinese manufacturers that have historically had to fight perceptions of poor quality. Although smaller companies with financial problems might be more liable to have quality issues, problematic panels are also coming from European and American companies.

A vivid example of quality repercussions involves the San Diego Unified School District, which was forced to remove solar panels from 24 campus buildings because they were corroding. The panels came from Solar Integrated Technologies, which has since field filed for bankrupty.

The lesson for developers and solar financing companies: leave nothing to chance when it comes to suppliers. Seek reliability verifications from independent testing facilities, look carefully at the financial position of suppliers, and pay closer attention to warranty terms that cover replacements over the lifetime of projects.

PV Evolution Labs is teaming up with GTM Research to create a benchmarking program called PV Module Reliability that will measure and compare modules from multiple manufacturers.

"Solar PV manufacturers benefit from knowing how they measure up against the competition in order to improve their product designs and manufacturing processes,” says Meydbray. “Because the solar PV technology landscape is extremely dynamic and module warranties are lengthy, the industry is striving to obtain intelligence that will inform not only manufacturing improvements, but purchasing decisions as well.”

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