Importance of PV module quality to increase

In an interview Markus Steinkötter, CEO of the event’s co-organizer Sunnyside upP GmbH, tells pv magazine that the issue of PV module quality is set to become increasingly relevant, particularly for German manufacturers.

He states that while they cannot fully compete on a cost level with manufacturers from such regions as China, they can still create a competitive edge through the production of high quality, reliable modules.

However, although offline quality control is more or less standard, new measures need to be implemented into the actual PV module production stages. "If you look at the semiconductor industry, you always have one production step and then a quality tool to have a closed loop of what you’re doing, and this is not yet implemented in the PV business very well," he states.

He adds that companies like Bosch, Solon and SolarWorld have increased their inline quality efforts in the past few years though, in addition to integrating measurement systems into new production lines.

Missed opportunity

Furthermore, Steinkötter says that the German industry has missed an opportunity over the last few years to create a niche market for itself, where it delivered products above standard quality. In his words, "they just deliver a standard product in a growing market".

There are still chances to be had though. He continues: "I think the German industry can find its outstanding position. The price now is a strong focus, yes, but to follow the price breakers will not, in my view, be enough. We need higher prices and I think we can get them, if we find the right arguments and the right customers who are willing to pay a little extra for quality, service, warranties and so on. Then we are really competitive.

"We will lose if we just follow this race on a price level. If we are inventing, if we are developing, if we have quality and long term contracts, then I think we have a really good position, and Germany will still play a major role in the solar business."

Troubling

Steinkötter goes on to say that he believes PV systems in Germany will begin to show signs of trouble over the next few years, due to the implementation of low quality modules. He explains that a lot of the modules used in solar parks, for example, have been imported from other countries, where the price is cheap. According to spot market prices, there is a reported difference of about +15 to +20 percent for "German quality products compared to Asian suppliers".

While he says that low cost does not automatically equal bad quality, he is concerned that due to price pressures, quality is often compromised. Consequently, he says that as time goes on, the industry can expect to see PV systems experiencing more failures.

To back this assertion up, he says that feedback has been provided at quality workshops, for example, the "Modulworkshop TÜV Rheinland", where solar park planners and auditors have spoken about quality issues, such as lamination failures, solar cell cracks or power losses seen after delivery of modules in sea freight containers, or rechecks within the two year warranty periods.

The workshop

The workshop, "Entwicklungen in der Solar-Modul-Produktion", organized by PVExperts, will be delivered in German, and will address ways in which the country’s manufacturers can compete on a global scale.

In addition to the theme of quality, new materials, particularly in the areas of glass and encapsulation, will be looked at, as will market developments and production processes. Companies like Bosch, Solon and Conergy will be leading the discussions. Click here for the full program.

Around 40 to 50 people are expected to attend. Commenting on the relatively small numbers, Steinkötter says that the workshop’s aim is to create an atmosphere of knowledge exchange, debate and discussion, rather than just company presentations, which many other workshops end up being.

It is the first in a series of events, which will address the entire PV value chain. It is scheduled to be held in Berlin, Germany on May 12.