Some solar panels are allegedly defective, with problems occurring into their second year; a significant issue, given that the products are meant to last 25 years. Some panels have been linked to fires and other serious problems.
The issue, according to The New York Times is not isolated and has led to some very serious problems. For example, in one case, the media outlet highlighted, the solar panels covering a large warehouse in Los Angeles experienced coating disintegration after two years, which led to defects that resulted in two fires, disabling of the system for a couple of years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue lost.
Others are facing similar problems and reports indicate that the crisis has hit at the worst time—when the $77 billion solar industry is readying for broad and increased usage and following a surge in solar construction, noted the Times. Much concern involves China, which handles much of the world’s solar panel manufacturing.
Because no industry figures exist concerning solar panels and because of confidentiality agreements that protect manufacturers’ identities, there is no clear understanding of the extent of the problem, the Times pointed out. Accountability has become a serious challenge. With promises that the panels will pay for themselves in 25 years and panels failing inside of two years and causing other problems, billions of dollars are at stake with panels installed everywhere from private homes to desert power plants, the Times reported.
Law360 noted that if the problem is as large as the Times suggests, lawsuits should be expected to be brought against solar panel makers, component manufacturers that supplied parts and/or materials used in the making of solar panels, the distributors and dealers of the panels, and the contracting companies that installed the panels.
The Solar Energy Industries Association said that solar panel generating capacity increased significantly in the past decade from 83 megawatts in 2003 to 7,266 megawatts last year—just about half that capacity was installed in 2012. Current wattage can power more than 1.2 million homes, according to the Times
“We need to face up to the fact that corners are being cut,” Conrad Burke, general manager for DuPont’s photovoltaic division, which supplies materials to solar manufacturers, told the Times. Dissigno, a solar developer, has seen serious panel failures at a number of its projects, Dave Williams, chief executive, told the Times. “I don’t want to be alarmist, but I think quality poses a long-term threat,” he added. “The quality across the board is harder to put your finger on now as materials in modules are changing every day and manufacturers are reluctant to share that information.”
Meanwhile, officials at firms that inspect Chinese factories for developers and financiers, say that even the most reputable firms have begun to use cheaper and untested materials in the past 18 months, according to The Times. In some cases, manufacturers have had to stop production and subcontract module assembly to smaller firms. “We 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,” Thibaut Lemoine, general manager of STS Certified, a testing service, told the Times. In fact, an STS evaluation of 215,000 photovoltaic modules at its Shanghai laboratory in 2011 and 2012, revealed a defect rate that increased to 13 percent from 7.8 percent.
“Based on our testing, some manufacturers are absolutely swapping in cheap Chinese materials to save money,” Jenya Meydbray, chief executive of PV Evolution Labs said, according to the Times. “There are a lot of shortcuts being taken, and unfortunately it’s by some of the more reputable companies and there’s also been lot of new companies starting up in recent years without the same standards we’ve had at Suntech,” Stuart Wenham, chief technology officer of Suntech, told the Times.
Debt resulting from a need to increase production has led to a severe drop in price for solar paneling since 2009, which has led to Chinese solar companies to cut costs. In one case, Suntech, the world’s largest solar manufacturer up until 2012, was forced into bankruptcy, the Times explained.