Testers, developers, financiers and insurers say that solar panels are facing a quality control crisis, just as the technology is on the cusp of widespread adoption, reports the New York Times.
However, the scope of the problem is unclear. There are no official figures detailing how big a problem defective panels are to the $77 billion solar industry. Furthermore, when defects are discovered, confidentiality agreements often keep the manufacturer’s identity a secret, the paper reports.
Instead, the mooted crisis has been identified through anecdotal evidence. The paper reports on an unnamed warehouse in California’s Inland Empire region east of Los Angeles where panels ceased to function. Coatings that protect the panels disintegrated, while other failings led to fires that took the array off line for two years. These problems occurred just two years in to the panels’ 25-year life span, the paper reports.
It appears that the quality control concerns come at a far-from-opportune time: on the back of a surge in solar construction. Recent figures from the Solar Energy Industries Association show that US solar capacity grew from 83 MW in 2003 to 7,266 MW in 2012. Nearly half that capacity was installed in 2012, the Times reports.
Quoted in the piece is Conrad Burke, general manager for DuPont’s photovoltaic division, which supplies materials to solar manufacturers. Burke says that the industry needs to “face up to the fact that corners are being cut.” Dave Williams, chief designer at San Francisco-based solar developer Dissigno told the Times that quality issues pose a long-term threat.
Most quality concerns are focussed on panels made in China, where heavily indebted manufacturers are under “extreme pressure” to cut costs, the paper reports. Executives at companies that inspect Chinese manufacturers on behalf of solar developers and their financial backers told the paper that even companies with the best reputations have been found using “cheaper, untested materials.”
Earlier this week, Brightergy Solar Solutions and Kansas City Power & Light announced plans to team up to install solar panels on 80 buildings by the end of this year, as part of Kansas City’s plans to go solar. The buildings comprise police and fire departments and community structures. The city will lease the energy for 20 years and pay a fixed rate for the electricity. The solar power generated by the 80 buildings will provide the city with $40,000 in savings in the first year.
Do you work in the solar industry? Have you experienced disappointing reliability from solar panels? Or does this scenario sound alien to you? Please tell us in the comments section below.