SOLARUNITED’s PV Quality Committee Strategy Gaining Momentum

Aristotle Was Right: The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of its Parts

The SOLARUNITED Committee has been working hard with new initiatives in collaboration with the Becquerel Institute in Belgium. The results of its first workshop will be presented during the PV Production Forum at EUPVSEC in Munich, Germany on June 22, 2016.

SOLARUNITED’s PV Quality Initiative was established to implement uniform standards throughout the photovoltaics industry regarding quality across all sectors of the global solar value chain. The working group coordinates quality-oriented activities of SOLARUNITED and its members.

We spoke with encapsulant manufacturer EVASA Senior Vice President Laura Azpilicueta, who serves as PV Quality Initiative Committee Co-Chair with Dr. Nabih Cherradi of Desert Technologies, about what the Working Group has learned thus far.

Q: What are the PV Quality Committee’s Objectives?

A: The Committee’s objective is to analyze, upgrade and improve processes and installations. Unfortunately, pressure to lower prices and reduce costs has led the industry to become somewhat complacent and accept materials that do not meet requirements needed for installations to perform optimally for the full 25-year lifespan. If we do not put a stop to this complacency, the break down in the installations will continue and the only thing we will achieve is that the end customer or consumer of solar energy will lose faith in the technology as a viable alternative energy resource.

 

Q: Isn’t quality vs. cost efficiency a tough balancing act for any organisation?

A: Do you know what the irony is? So many times this blind pursuit of saving money and instant cost reductions has made it difficult to understand that true savings comes with an installation that works in full performance for its 25 years lifespan. What is even more incredible is that the difference in price, between one material and another, really is not that significant and cannot have a huge impact on installation’s ultimate price if it fails to meet expectations. The organisation’s reputation suffers, as does the PV industry at large.

 

Q: What is the Quality Committee specifically studying?

A: One of the things we are studying and carefully researching are the materials needed for each specific climate and the present conditions where the module will be installed. In the educational workshop we participated in at SPI LA, I tackled the concept of what it means to be “good enough.” At first this caused quite a stir until I explained that part of working on quality in an industry that has been so punished by cost reduction strategies is understanding and knowing exactly what product and what material is precisely good enough to meet all the requirements necessary to achieve the best user results in each given situation. It’s not a matter of paying more, rather a question of paying for what you actually need and will render the best results for you. Let´s help the module manufacturers, producers, installers and technicians know exactly what products and materials they need for each specific situation.

 

Q: What kind of benefits will the industry realise taking this approach?

A: Our industry must have a future and it must be a long and brilliant one. There is a lot to be done. There are many places around the globe that will only have electricity if it comes from solar energy. We have a responsibility and this is why we must do right. Let’s please not continue to help those that want to demonstrate that our technology doesn’t work by giving them more examples of failed or faulty installations.

 

Q: It must take tremendous cooperation to cover the entire value chain?

A: I would like to extend my gratitude to all the people that believed in the project from its inception and have offered their help and support. I have to say that this wouldn’t have even thought about moving forward in this endeavor without the invaluable help and support of Dr. Nabih Cherradi and Gaëtan Masson from the Becquerel Institute.

Getting everyone to cooperate is no easy feat. In fact, it would be far easier to turn a blind eye and continue on to do business as usual. It is easier to hide all the problems there have existed with installations and simply replace the modules that don’t work, just like an executive from an insurance company once suggested to me when were discussing the issue. Until recently, it seemed like the only ones willing to talk about quality were technical sales people, use that as a pitch to outsell competitors at higher prices.

It definitely is not easy bringing to the table the reality of what is happening out there. Skeptics see this as strategy to sell your product rather than a genuine concern for how it is affecting the industry as a whole. It affects the entire industry really – even those who pretend it is not an issue.

 

Q: Doesn’t such a strategy required SOLARUNITED members to check their individual egos at the door, so to speak? Wasn’t Aristotle correct in his analysis, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?

A: Exactly. One of the things I have asked people joining me on this project is that they let go of their “BRAND” since all I am after is their “BRAIN.” We can only unite if we can defend each and everyone’s product. Otherwise we lose credibility, and in the end the project will most likely die because we couldn’t reach a consensus that works out individual faults or weaknesses. This has to be a project with a future and a common goal that sets in motion across the board standards. The resulting specs must ensure panels will last the 25 promised years without problems and issues.

 

Q: How diverse are the participants in the project?

A: We are a group with representatives from all areas of the chain: polysilicon suppliers, EPC, developers, backsheet producers, EVA producers, cells producers, glass producers, module producers, inverters and mounting systems, and trackers. We also count on R&D and experts from many prestigious laboratories. Every component and function has representation. We must also work together.

All of the participants work for renowned enterprises and companies within the market and industry. Their experience is well respected and known in the industry. It was necessary to have people on board whose profile – I can’t stress this enough – truly believe in the project’s value and mission. They have provided their experience, knowledge and time. My Committee colleague Gaëtan Masson, Founder and Director of the Becquerel Institute, can address our objectives more specifically –

 

Q: How does the research actually play out regarding the quality work stream among SOLARUNITED’s members?  

A: Our aim is twofold. The first is to collect data and information from the field about component failures and performance losses, and define standardized methods to identify failures in the field. We set up a working group dedicated to this research.

The second aim is to identify areas of technical improvement through dedicated working groups by defining and communicating best practices to downstream players.

 

Q: Are there any upcoming workshops that these objectives?

A: In May we’re planning a workshop in Shanghai during SNEC and will enlist the support of the Chinese Academy of Science. The topic will examine PV component requirements for specific geographic installations vs. “one fits all climates.”

In June, during Intersolar EU we will organise another workshop: “PV Performances: From field experience to industry improvements.” We expect to collaborate with TUV/IEA-PVPS in producing this event.

A full report regarding SOLARUNITED’s PV Quality and Reliability progress will be published in early 2017.

For more information about SOLARUNITED’s Quality Committee – please contact

Laura Azpilicueta
Co-Chair of the Quality Committee
Mobile: +44 (0) 7584 168 457
lac@evasa.net

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