25 Years Life? PVEL Rings Alarm On High Failure Rate Among Modules

Solar’s huge rise has been matched with an even bigger expansion in capacity, primarily in China, and now, the rest of the world too. With manufacturing capacities rising from 25 GW in 2015  to over 400 GW today. These have driven costs lower, even as incremental innovations across the value chain have also helped. For modules, perhaps the most obvious indicator has been higher output, and hence, larger sizes. Now, PV Evolution labs, (PVEL), a leading independent test lab for the downstream solar and energy storage industry, has rung the alarm bells on a possible risk to the sector, from quality issues.

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Its 2021 PV Module Reliability Scorecard which came out last week, names 117 model types of PV modules from 26 manufacturers as Top Performers in PVEL’s testing. While applauding the widespread adoption of technical advances that increase PV module power output and reduce the cost of solar power, it flags reliability issues that could trip up performance  gains, if not fixed early. One in three participating manufacturers failed to implement basic quality controls that protect end users from safety failures.

“An unprecedented expansion of PV module manufacturing capacity is underway. New factories and production lines are vital as demand for solar power soars, but buyers must be vigilant to avoid the risks inherent to rapid growth,” commented Jenya Meydbray, PVEL CEO. “The preventable safety failures observed in this year’s Scorecard underscore the complex challenges that manufacturers face as they race to meet demand in a highly dynamic global market.”

The output comes from the PV Module Product Qualification Program (PQP), a comprehensive testing regime established by PVEL in 2012 to provide empirical data for PV module supplier benchmarking and project-level energy yield and financial models.

“As PV manufacturing capacity expands, mega-scale, 100+ MW projects financed by risk-averse traditional investors are the new norm. Yet the most innovative technologies are unproven in the field. We trust PVEL for the technical data we need to de-risk Primergy’s 2GW project pipeline,” said Adam Larner, Chief Operating Officer of Primergy Solar, a wholly owned subsidiary of Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners, a global investment manager with $8B invested in 19GW of power generation.

Notable findings in the 2021 Scorecard include:

  • Twenty-six percent of the bills of material (BOMs) eligible for this year’s Scorecard had at least one failure as compared to 20% in 2020.
  • One in three manufacturers tested experienced safety failures due to junction box defects versus one in five in 2020.  The majority of these failures were observed prior to testing.
  • Five manufacturers received their first Top Performer listings in this year’s Scorecard.
  • The report includes two new Top Performer categories that showcase modules with superior results in PVEL’s mechanical stress sequence and minimal susceptibility to light-induced degradation and light- and elevated- temperature induced degradation.
  • The greatest number of failures occurred during the mechanical stress sequence, a test PVEL recently added to the PQP to address durability concerns, especially for extreme weather.

“From glass to junction box, PVEL’s latest Scorecard again demonstrates that the quality of a PV module depends in part upon the materials it contains – yet many buyers never request BOM details from suppliers,” noted Tara Doyle, Chief Commercial Officer of PVEL. “Between supply chain instability and the ever-present push for lower prices, one cannot assume that every module sold under a given model type uses tested BOM components. Buyers must specify their desired BOM in supply contracts to achieve this.”

Participation in PVEL’s PQP and Scorecard is voluntary for manufacturers and only top-performing module model types are named in the Scorecard. To date, PVEL has tested over 450 BOMs from more than 50 manufacturers for the PV Module PQP.

The views underscore the fear among many industry veterans that the new projections built by developers and private equity investors leave very little margin for errors, or delays caused by issues beyond policy impact. That can be dangerous, as an overwhelming part of the PV capacity in existence has been built in the past 6 -7 years, which means we will start seeing issues vis a vis warranties only now, and in the coming years. PVEL has highlighted how they are seeing degradation rates of upto 15 percent in cases. Similarly,  while modules with one type of encapsulant degraded just 4.9% on average after 35 years, modules with two other encapsulant formulations exhibited much higher mean degradation rates of 19.1% and 26.1%.
All this, when expectations are of a minimum useful life of 15 years , going up to 25 years. A significant performance degradation could seriously impact those projections.

For the first time, the Scorecard is available in both an interactive digital format and as a free download at www.modulescorecard.pvel.com.

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Prasanna Singh

Prasanna has been a media professional for over 20 years. He is the Group Editor of Saur Energy International