Creating the Consumer Reports of solar reliability

How do you know when you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck? That’s an answer Consumer Reports has been answering since 1936 for all manner of modern conveniences from stereos to cars to HVAC systems and more. But no one’s really taken the same scientific evaluative approach across all photovoltaics (PVs), using scientific testing to...

Manufacturing at a PV plant in BrazilHow do you know when you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck? That’s an answer Consumer Reports has been answering since 1936 for all manner of modern conveniences from stereos to cars to HVAC systems and more. But no one’s really taken the same scientific evaluative approach across all photovoltaics (PVs), using scientific testing to evaluate how well and long-lasting PV modules are performing in the field and rating them by the same scores. That’s what GTM Research and PVEL (PV Evolution Labs) is working to do.

The two have developed the PVEL-GTM Research PV Module Reliability Scorecard, which relies on testing and evaluation to help PV manufacturers prove the performance of their production modules. And allows project developers, installers and investors to better understand how the modules will perform over their anticipated lifetime. The scorecard is based on results from PVEL’s Reliability Demonstration Test protocol and GTM Research’s cost and bankability analysis. 

“These module manufacturers undergo reliability testing and then GTM Research can aggregate these results, rank these companies and actually have an apples to apples comparison of different module manufacturers and have a better sense of the quality and reliability of what these module manufacturers are producing,” said MJ Shaio senior analyst of Solar Markets at GTM Research.

This ranking is especially important since it’s now a buyer’s market, still suffering—on the manufacturer’s side—from oversupply. That oversupply has thrown an additional burden on some PV manufacturers, forcing some major players, like BP Solar, United Solar and Schott Solar out of the market, for instance. So, reliability and longevity of the manufacturer behind the module is also more important right now—because even if a company has a 25-year warranty on its product, what good is that if the company is no longer making the product 5 years from purchase.

While modules are tested and evaluated by UL and IEC to make sure they perform, that’s only when the companies release new products and on prototype modules. “They are tested by definition before the high-volume manufacturing line is ramped.,” said Jenya Meydbray co-founder and CEO of PV Evolution Labs. The testing is done a limited number of modules and they're issued their accreditations based on that. Afterwards their IEC or UL certification is applied and they can begin high-volume manufacturing. “To put everything into perspective a 1 gigawatt factory, which is not too uncommon today, is producing 10,000 modules every single day, 365 days a year with no retest requirements,” he said.

By using the scoring system developed by GTM and PVEL projects can choose which technology or company offers the lowest-risk. That should also help their investors understand the anticipated return on investment.

 

 

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