Defects in Solar Panels
Defects in Solar Panels Threaten Industry’s Future
Solar panels, which use sunlight to generate electricity, are generally considered an innovative piece of sustainable technology. In fact, the prospect of solar-powered energy has been so promising, it helped to fuel a huge boom in solar construction in recent years. But the optimism for this new wave of technology has been offset by recent concerns about the quality of solar panels. Problems with the quality of materials and other possible defects have led some industry experts to question how long solar panels can actually last. On average, they are expected to last 25 years — but in some cases, they have failed in only two years.
$77 Billion Dollar Solar Panel Industry Facing Quality Crisis
Solar construction has surged in recent years. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, solar panel generating capacity spiked to 7,266 megawatts in 2012 from 83 megawatts in 2003. Almost half of that was installed in 2012, which means that some potential problems still may not be obvious for a number of years. What is obvious now is that serious quality concerns have started to haunt the solar power industry boom, according to a New York Times article published on May 28, 2013. The solar panels covering the roof of a warehouse in Los Angeles, California, failed in just two years. The problem, NYT reports, was that the coatings designed to protect the panels had disintegrated, while other issues started two fires, causing the system to be offline for two years. These issues cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenues.
The Los Angeles warehouse incident is just one example of why the industry is concerned about the quality of solar panels. Testing labs, developers, financiers and insurers are even describing the quality issue as a crisis facing the $77 billion –industry. At the same time, however, as the NYT article makes clear, it is unknown how widespread the problems are with defective solar panels. Furthermore, when problems are found, the identity of the manufacturer is usually kept a secret due to a confidentiality agreement. “I don’t want to be alarmist, but I think quality poses a long-term threat,” Dave Williams, chief executive of the San Francisco-based solar develop Dissigno, told the NYT.
Solar panels, when struck by sunlight, use a photovoltaic cell to produce electricity. The cell is protected by a thin film that keeps out moisture; it is sealed between layers of glass, as well. Eventually, all solar panels degrade and produce increasingly less electricity, but recent evidence suggests that the panels are not performing as they should. According to a review of 30,000 installations in Europe by Meteocontrol, a German solar monitoring firm, 80 percent of the installations were underperforming. In 2010, Enertis Solar tested the solar panels of six manufacturers and found defect rates were as high as 34.5 percent.
Cheap and Untested Materials may be Threatening the Solar Construction Industry
Conrad Burke, the general manager for DuPont’s photovoltaic division, told NYT that “[w]e need to face up to the fact that corners are being cut.” China, where the majority of the solar panel industry manufacturing is done, is under extreme pressure to cut costs after incurring billions of dollars in debt in order to speed up solar panel production.
According to executives at companies that have inspected Chinese factories over an 18-month period, even the most reputable among them are using cheaper, untested materials to build solar panels. Thibaut Lemoine, general manager of French-owned testing service STS Certified, told NYT that “[w]e 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.” Lemoine added that, in one case, a brand-name manufacturer produced an entire batch of defective modules.
Statistics continue to show that solar panel defects are a growing issue. The rate of defects in an audit of 50 Chinese factories was 5.5 percent to 22 percent over 18 months, according to Ian Gregory, the senior marketing director of SolarBuyer. Gregory also said that in repeat follow-up inspections, the company found that some manufacturers were constantly switching to ever cheaper materials and even using expired parts. “If the materials aren’t good or haven’t been thoroughly tested, they won’t stick together and the solar module will eventually fall apart in the field,” he stated.
Poor quality caused a one-year-old Australian solar plant to fail, according to Jenya Meydbray, chief executive of California-based testing service PV Evolution Labs. Test results showed that subpar Chinese materials caused the protective coating to degrade.
Quality issues are not limited to Chinese manufacturers. For example, the faulty solar panels installed on the Los Angeles warehouse were made by an American manufacturer.
Help for Those with Defective Solar Panels
Parker Waichman LLP has successfully represented numerous clients over the years in product liability lawsuits. Our attorneys are here to answer any questions you may have about defective solar panels. For more information, please out our online form or call us at 1(800)-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).