Solar PV prices fall while quality concerns come from China
Published: Aug 20, 2013
Imagine that you have made a significant investment in a Solar PV (photovoltaic) installation with the expectation that the product would last at least 25 years, more than enough time for it to pay for itself and more, but instead it falls apart in two years.
This is not a pervasive problem, but it is not that uncommon either.
A May 2013 report coming out of the New York Times cites numerous issues with Solar PV installations, and it is likely that there are more to come due to the large amount of installations last year.
Indeed from 2003 to 2012, the installed capacity increased by about 100 fold if measured in megawatts, reportedly from 83 to 7266.
This comes at a time when the industry is reporting significant reductions in the cost of Solar PV installation with price drops by as much as 14 percent, a move that has certainly helped the industry to thrive and grow.
These alarms about faulty panels would unfortunately be a turn off to wary consumers.
The panels themselves are made up of PV cells that generate electricity from the sun. These are protected by thin films to keep out moisture and a product used for sealing the cell between glass layers.
Some Chinese manufacturers have apparently been under pressure to produce profits following the billions of dollars that were invested in the industry with the intention of cornering the marketplace. They were successful in flooding the industry from 2009 with the resulting fall in prices across the board.
Unfortunately based on this pressure by investors, inferior products, some past their use by date, have been discovered in panels that were tested after they failed.
In some instances in-house testing and quality control procedures have been compromised as a part of cost-cutting measures and this issue has been exacerbated by new players to the field who did not grow up with the discipline of the testing protocols that initially made the Chinese panels so successful.
In many cases it is not easy to pinpoint the guilty party due to the confidentiality agreements that prevent the wayward manufacturers from being named and shamed.
It is however important to separate the good apples from the bad ones as it’s bad enough if the panel falls apart but some faulty panels have even caught fire. It is worth noting that not all companies have been guilty of passing on inferior products as a number of them have maintained their standards. They may, though, suffer a bit from the misdeeds of others.
I guess this is just a part of the growing pains of any industry and those companies who provide poor quality panels will eventually be laid to waste while the rest march on. Of course none of us wants to literally get singed in the process.
• We would like to hear how this article has helped you. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Sonia Brown is principal of Graphite Engineering Ltd. and is a registered professional engineer.