Module reliability more important than cost, say solar customers

A report by analysts IHS titled PV Module Customer Insight Survey has revealed that module reliability is the most important factor when choosing a module, with 99% of respondents deeming the characteristic either "very important" or "important".

Of second-most import for buyers when selecting a PV module is "high quality", closely followed by "low price". While module quality was deemed the most important characteristic across three major PV regions, respondents in the U.S. placed the greatest emphasis on low pricing. In the U.K. and Germany, meanwhile, "high efficiency" ranked highest.

"While price is still a highly important factor when selecting PV modules, purchasers believe that performance-related factors are of greater value, particularly in European markets," said IHS principal solar analyst Stefan de Hann. "This is a reflection of the growing awareness and focus on the total cost of ownership of a PV plant in Europe.

"As incentive levels and internal rates of return (IRR) for all types of PV systems become lower and lower, the cost of every kWh becomes increasingly important. In other markets, such as the U.S., incentives more commonly take the form of grants and tax breaks – meaning that there is a slightly stronger focus on upfront cost."

The report denotes the responses of a survey conducted among PV system installers, integrators, EPC providers and PV module distributors.

Brand awareness

The survey also revealed that brand loyalty is not something that overly concerns PV customers, with fewer than 10% of respondents saying that they prefer to stick to a single module supplier, with EPCs and integrators least likely to use one brand.

When pressed, however, some 20% of respondents would consider sticking to one PV module brand in the future if it meant that they were able to secure a better pricing structure in the process, as well as an easier system design.

"PV module purchasers demonstrate a clear preference for maintaining business relationships with more than one module supplier, as this allows them to ensure they are receiving competitive pricing and provides them with access to as wide a range of products as possible," de Haan added. "Importantly, many also express a reluctance to rely on a single company for their total module supply, reflecting clear concerns about the survival of module suppliers and suppliers’ capability to provide sufficient and flexible stockpiles."

Although there is a widespread reluctance to rely on a single brand, Chinese-made modules topped the preference charts, with three out of the top five module brands hailing from China. The top preferred brand overall was Yingli Solar, while the number one preferred brand in terms of module quality was SunPower – a U.S. company.