The NY Times is reporting that solar panels failures are becoming a major concern for the industry.
The photovoltaic cells, incorportated into the panel, generate electricity when exposed to the sun. A thin film protects the cell from moisture and it is encapsulated between layers of glass. The life expectation of the cells is 25 years and the economics of their use is predicated upon that length of service. But inspection of some these panels finds that cheaper materials are being used to bring down the manufacturing costs.
The Times posting “Solar Industry Anxious Over Defective Panels” relates stories of failures. Here are two:
The solar panels covering a vast warehouse roof in the sun-soaked Inland Empire region east of Los Angeles were only two years into their expected 25-year life span when they began to fail. Coatings that protect the panels disintegrated while other defects caused two fires that took the system offline for two years, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenues.
That’s what happened in 2011 at a year-old Australian solar plant, Mr. Meydbray of PV Evolution said. Testing confirmed that substandard materials were causing the Chinese-made modules’ protective coating to degrade, he said. The power plant operator declined to be identified.
Quality control seems to be deteriorating. “Most of the concerns over quality center on China, home to the majority of the world’s solar panel manufacturing capacity.”
The Times writes about testing firms experience:
Executives at companies that inspect Chinese factories on behalf of developers and financiers said that over the last 18 months they have found that even the most reputable companies are substituting cheaper, untested materials. Other brand-name manufacturers, they said, have shut down production lines and subcontracted the assembly of modules to smaller makers.
“We have inspectors in a lot of factories, and it’s not rare to see some big brands being produced in those smaller workshops where they have no control over quality,” said Thibaut Lemoine, general manager of STS Certified, a French-owned testing service. When STS evaluated 215,000 photovoltaic modules at its Shanghai laboratory in 2011 and 2012, it found the defect rate had jumped from 7.8 percent to 13 percent.
In one case, an entire batch of modules from one brand-name manufacturer listed on the New York Stock Exchange proved defective, Mr. Lemoine said. He declined to identify the manufacturer, citing confidentiality agreements.
“Based on our testing, some manufacturers are absolutely swapping in cheap Chinese materials to save money,” Jenya Meydbray, chief executive of PV Evolution Labs, a Berkeley, Calif., testing service.
SolarBuyer, a company based in Marlborough, Mass., discovered defect rates of 5.5 percent to 22 percent during audits of 50 Chinese factories over the last 18 months, said Ian Gregory, the company’s senior marketing director.
The following suggests the consequences of holding to quality standards. Suntech said they were, but now they have been forced into bankruptcy.
“There are a lot of shortcuts being taken, and unfortunately it’s by some of the more reputable companies and there’s also been lot of new companies starting up in recent years without the same standards we’ve had at Suntech,” said Stuart Wenham, the chief technology officer of Suntech, which is based in Jiangsu Province in eastern China.
Chinese banks in March, for instance, forced Suntech into bankruptcy. Until 2012, the company had been the world’s biggest solar manufacturer.
The Times notes that many of the problems never get reported because of confidentiality agreements.
This is not the first report of quality issues in the blog. See “Solar Planels Don’t Work.”