The Top Solar Manufacturers Are Not Necessarily Making the Highest-Quality Modules

Can the silicon-based (mostly Chinese) solar module industry maintain its reliability given the constant price declines in component and system costs? Current solar module pricing at 30 or 40 cents per watt might not leave a lot of room for building in reliability.

DNV GL's PV Module Reliability Scorecard gathers reliability test data from its lab on a large group of panel manufacturers. The lab has been testing solar modules for more than six years and has reams of historical data to compare performance among vendors. The report is available for free download here.

Here's a counterintuitive chart that shows performance degradation after 600 thermal cycles — with the top 10 manufacturers colored in red. 

One can't assume that the big manufacturers all make the highest quality products.

The top 10 module suppliers according to PV Tech are:

  • Jinko
  • Trina
  • Canadian Solar
  • Hanwha Q Cells
  • JA Solar
  • GCL
  • First Solar
  • Yingli
  • Talesun
  • Risen

Here are the top performers for 2017, according to the report.

Top-10 module manufacturers that are not on the top performer list — either because they did not make the grade or because they did not participate — include Canadian Solar, JA Solar, and Risen. GTM has asked those vendors if they submitted test samples.

The reliability of modules are absolutely impacted by choice of raw materials. The report observes that the same module with the same module number will have vastly different performance based on a different bill of materials.

“PV Module aging and failure mechanisms seen over the past several decades have been documented over a wide range of power plant locations and material sets. Field failures of PV equipment can stem from material issues, fundamental product design flaws, or failures in quality control during the manufacturing process,” note the authors of the report.

The figure below indicates leading PV module aging and failure mechanisms that occur as infant mortalities, mid-life failures, and wear-out failure.

Source: IEA PVPS 2014

Jenya Meydbray, vice president for strategy and business development at DNV GL, makes some additional observations.  

  • Kyocera was the only vendor in the top performer list every year. Yet, Kyocera has left the U.S. market.
  • He suggests that it takes “a ton of sophistication” to make high quality modules at 30 to 35 cent-per-watt prices.
  • Trina seems to be the most consistently performing — featured in most tests in 2014, most tests in 2016 and every test in 2017.
  • Jinko distinguished itself in some tests in 2014, most in 2016, and all in 2017. That company has shown consistent improvement across the board.

In the race to maintain cost parity, vendors cannot sacrifice quality and reliability. This report is a good place to watch this play out.

from GTM Solar


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