For many, the words “Made in China” don’t bode well. Solar panels with this marking could soon become as scorned as many other cheap Chinese products.
Masters of copycat products in just about every market, Chinese manufacturing giants are now flooding the market with solar panels, and more of these are proving to be defective than ever before. Part of the problem is cost-cutting during production. For example, solar panel prices have dropped drastically since around 2009. Chinese solar panel manufacturers need to cut production costs if they are going to be profitable.
Unfortunately, some of these companies, good ones too, have gone bankrupt trying to keep up with bigger manufacturers. SunTech, until 2012, was the world’s biggest solar panel manufacturer until it had to declare bankruptcy in March of this year. Even if companies want to keep their quality up, they can’t compete for volume and suffer for other manufacturers poor quality.
STS Certified, a testing service in France, testing solar panel modules in its lab in Shanghai has found quality to be declining. Testing some 215,000 modules between 2011 and 2012, STS found that the defect rate had nearly doubled from 7.8% to 13%. SolarBuyer in Massachusettes has discovered defect rates of up to 22% during its audits of fifty Chinese manufacturers over the last 18 months.
One problem with all of this is all the collateral damage. For example, a warehouse roof in Los Angeles was recently outfitted with solar panels expected to last 25 years. It has experienced multiple cascading failures and fires after solar panels began to disintegrate. The system was taken offline for two years to repair the damages, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Unfortunately, with quality suffering and contractors looking to reduce costs and increase profits, this type of problem only seems to be on the rise.