Crappy solar panels threaten to darken the solar industry's future.

ShutterstockFaulty solar panels threaten to darken the solar industry’s future.

As the solar sector explodes, some of the solar panels it produces are fizzling out.

The New York Times reports on the problem of faulty panels and says nobody knows how pervasive it is because nobody keeps track. Fingers are being pointed at corner cutting by manufacturing firms in China. From the Times article:

Worldwide, testing labs, developers, financiers and insurers are reporting [quality] problems and say the $77 billion solar industry is facing a quality crisis just as solar panels are on the verge of widespread adoption. …

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The quality concerns have emerged just after a surge in solar construction. In the United States, the Solar Energy Industries Association said that solar panel generating capacity exploded from 83 megawatts in 2003 to 7,266 megawatts in 2012, enough to power more than 1.2 million homes. Nearly half that capacity was installed in 2012 alone, meaning any significant problems may not become apparent for years.

“We need to face up to the fact that corners are being cut,” said Conrad Burke, general manager for DuPont’s billion-dollar photovoltaic division, which supplies materials to solar manufacturers.

The solar developer Dissigno has had significant solar panel failures at several of its projects, according to Dave Williams, chief executive of the San Francisco-based company.

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“I don’t want to be alarmist, but I think quality poses a long-term threat,” he said. “The quality across the board is harder to put your finger on now as materials in modules are changing every day and manufacturers are reluctant to share that information.”

Most of the concerns over quality center on China, home to the majority of the world’s solar panel manufacturing capacity.

Some industry leaders say it’s time to start shaming the companies that are producing bad products:

[Stuart] Wenham, [the chief technology officer of Suntech], said manufacturers needed to be held accountable and advocated creating testing labs not beholden to the industry that would assess quality.

“We need to start naming names,” he said.

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