Relabeled modules cause headache for distributor

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Over the last six months, pv magazine has been investigating cases where PV components have been provided with quality defects and faults, or cases in which conflicts have arisen due to under performing PV projects. In the latest case in the ongoing series, a module manufacturer first delivers panels with a lower wattage rating than ordered. When the replacement shipment arrives, the dealer says that the modules had obviously been relabeled.

Old nameplates lay crumpled in the boxes, reported the distributer, indicating that the modules were neither the watt class nor the type of panels ordered. This rankled both the wholesaler and the end customer. But the manufacturer now refuses to deliver replacement modules.

In the summer of 2014, an installation company ordered 680 modules from a reputable dealer, each with a rated capacity of 250 watts, for a 170 kW PV plant. The dealer then ordered the modules from the manufacturer for direct delivery to the installer. Initially, however, only modules with 240 watt nameplates on them were delivered to the installer. The dealer then complained to the manufacturer about the delivery of the lower-capacity modules, and the manufacturer sent replacements. This is where the story takes a rather strange and unusual twist.

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The installer complained to the dealer that: 1) The nameplates on the replacement modules, which now indicated 250 watts, did not stick to the modules properly. 2) The module type was also engraved on the modules, and the engraved information did not match the information on the nameplates. 3) Adhesive residue from old nameplates was visible on the modules. 4) In the boxes, on which the original packaging was no longer intact, were crumpled labels indicating 240 watt panels and a completely different type of module than those ordered.

The installer then began to suspect that the modules had been relabeled with a false nameplate, and so retained a lawyer. The attorney informed the dealer that, among other things, as early as the initial delivery an internal note to the logistics company instructed it to remove the old labels and technical specifications and replace them with new labels indicating 250 watts. A photograph of the note was submitted to pv magazine. In the first delivery this relabeling apparently was not carried out, but the wholesaler and installer suspect that the instructions were acted on for the second delivery.

A subsequent query from the dealer met with little understanding from the manufacturer. Repackaging goods in the warehouse and replacing nameplates was common practice, the manufacturer said, in cases where packaging or labels were damaged during transport from China to Europe, for instance. So far, the manufacturer has not indicated a willingness to send another shipment of replacement modules.

Meanwhile, the installer and the dealer have reached a compromise. “The installer is a very good customer,” says the dealer, “We didn’t have a falling out over this case.” The solution was that the installer agreed to use the modules as delivered but not for the originally negotiated price. The lower price was to compensate for the delayed start to construction, repeated cancelation of sales, and the damage to the installer’s reputation in the eyes of its customers and business partners.

The dealer agreed to this solution and issued the installer a partial refund of the original purchase price. “Since then, the case has been closed as far as our customer is concerned,” the dealer said. Between the dealer and the manufacturer the story continues, however. The dealer has demanded compensation from the manufacturer to cover both the legal costs and the additional costs incurred resulting from the compromise with the installer. The wholesaler has not yet filed suit.

“At the moment the case is on the back burner, because we’re just not making any progress with the manufacturer,” he says. The manufacturer, for their part, does not seem to see the problem.

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