Allianz: 'Product quality is crucial'

pv magazine: What role does photovoltaics play in your business?

Matthias Jäger: We cover the whole spectrum of renewable energy. However, PV plays a large role in our consulting business with a share of around 50%. We have been able to absorb the sharp decline in PV in Germany through our international activities. Close cooperation with our colleagues from the Allianz insurance sector, who sometimes also carry out risk assessments, provides us with certain benefits.

pv magazine: Who are your most important customers?

Jäger: Our most important customers are banks, along with investors, manufacturers and project developers, increasingly from the international field.

pv magazine: In many non-European countries banks are finding it difficult to finance PV …

Jäger: I would not say that they are finding it difficult, but they lack experience with photovoltaics, be it in the financing of projects or lending to manufacturers. There is a lot of knowledge that still needs to be imparted. In any case, we expect that the demand for our consulting services will grow in many new PV markets.

pv magazine: Why do banks or companies avail themselves of your services?

Jäger: Banks want to be able to better assess the technical and financial risks when financing photovoltaic projects or lending to manufacturers. They often have no complete in-house expertise for the PV sector. Investors or project developers also want to be able to better assess their risks; manufacturers want a technical risk evaluation by an independent third party.

pv magazine: How do you proceed with your inspections?

Jäger: First of all we look at the available test reports, certifications, guarantees and other documents and information. We pay particular attention to who has gathered and created this data and by what criteria. Our own inspections and risk assessments are based on this. We then create appropriate testing and evaluation reports for our clients. We often support manufacturers over several years and make proposals for optimization to them. It is to our advantage that we are interdisciplinary; we have bankers, engineers and economists in our team.

pv magazine: Do you inspect every case on-site and not just from behind a desk?

Jäger: Yes, if we perform an evaluation for the manufacturer we like to see every case for ourselves. For example, I was recently in China for a customer together with an engineering colleague from our team. In module production for instance, we looked precisely at which materials are used and how they are handled, what quality checks are carried out in the production process, for example, EL tests before and after lamination. In addition, we look at reference facilities, while paying particular attention to how long they have been in operation, where they are; we collect real-time data and compare these with previously documented performance. With module examination we also collaborate with laboratories. It is also important for us to speak with the operators about what experiences they have had with the system and the installed components and whether they are satisfied with the performance and the after-sales service of the supplier. As a result of all this we create an evaluation report for our client.

pv magazine: What about on-site communication, in China for example?

Jäger: You can normally communicate in English and the most important documents already have been translated.

pv magazine: How long does an inspection take?

Jäger: There are usually two of us there for two to three days. The entire inspection usually takes about 15 working days; it also depends on how many documents we have to request and how long it takes to get them.

pv magazine: In which areas do you work with external partners?

Jäger: Particularly in the laboratory testing of modules and also technical approval. We often do this in cooperation with the TÜV or other partners. Countries such as China, the United States and Bulgaria often have their own technical safety standards, which our partners integrate into the inspection on our behalf.

pv magazine: Do you also use mobile test centers so you can check modules in solar parks in large numbers on-site?

Jäger: No, we usually have the module tests performed in the laboratory because they carry much more weight. Tolerance deviations in mobile testing centers are too high according to our experience. But we do perform, for example, thermographic tests on site.

pv magazine: A number of banks have black and white lists of module manufacturers. Does this make sense?

Jäger: This makes little sense, in my view, because as an approach it is too static. New manufacturers often have problems getting on these lists – even though they may already have produced OEM for one of the manufacturers who is on the list. It is often not clear on basis of what criteria certain names have made it to the lists, how often the lists are updated and how long they are valid. Many banks, by the way, have white lists, positive lists, often with a certain number of manufacturers listed, but these also seem to remain static. Instead, it is necessary to continually test specific individual projects and manufacturers. Only in this way change can be realized, technological progress in the product area, processes and procedures – but also change in the manufacturing landscape itself.

Read the full interview in the upcoming February issue of pv magazine.