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Solar Panel Degradation

April 20, 2014

By Paul Homewood


John Hultquist has sent me an interesting article on solar panel degradation, by Jack Dini, an author on environmental and science issues.

He highlights serious quality issues and premature failure in many solar panels installed, manufactured in China particularly, but not exclusively.


From the Canada Free Press.


Everyone has heard the pitch for solar energy, install solar cells on your roof and get free electricity from the sun. Sure they cost a lot up front, but they will last 25-30 years—which just happens to be about the payback time given current electricity rates from coal, nuclear and natural gas. So when the solar panels start failing in two or three years the economics of solar power collapses like a house of cards. That is exactly what is happening around the world. Cheap Chinese solar panels have flooded the market and are now starting to fail at an alarming rate. Solar panels covering a warehouse roof in Los Angeles were only two years into their expected 25-year life span when they began to fail. Worldwide, solar power adopters are reporting similar problems and the $77 billion solar industry is facing a quality crisis reports Doug Hoffman.

In May 2013 The New York Times exposed this growing scandal at the heart of the solar power industry. No one is sure how pervasive the problem is since there are no industry wide figures about defective solar panels. And when the defects are discovered, confidentiality agreements often keep the manufacturer’s identity secret, making accountability in the industry all the more difficult.

Most of the concerns over quality center on China, home to the majority of the world’s solar panel manufacturing capacity. Inspections of Chinese factories on behalf of developers and financiers revealed that even the most reputable companies are substituting cheaper, untested materials. Others are outsourcing production to smaller, less reputable companies. SolarBuyer, a company based in Marlborough, Mass., discovered defect rates of 5.5% to 22% during audits of 50 Chinese factories over the last 18 months notes,

In order to accelerate production and become the world’s leading solar panel manufacturing area, the Chinese incurred billions of dollars in debt. Now, these solar manufacturing companies are under pressure to cut costs and are substituting less expensive materials that are untested or whose use-by date have expired or subcontracting to smaller manufacturers where there is no quality control. In effect, the price war that Chinese manufacturers waged was a suicide mission. Now even they’re going bankrupt, including their erstwhile number one, Wuxi Suntech, when the banks pulled the ripcord in March 2013.

Defective Chinese panels wouldn’t be a big issue if there were plentiful domestically-produced alternatives. Unfortunately, thanks to our unfair trading relationship with China, American manufacturers haven’t been able to stay in business. China has heavily subsidized their green energy companies, offering such perks as free land, interest-free loans and export subsidies to ensure that their companies have all the advantages they need to conquer the rest of the market. Chinese solar companies have dumped their products on the US market at below market rates, putting their American competitors out of business.

That said, it is not just Chinese solar arrays that are failing—the defective panels installed on the Los Angeles area warehouse were made by an American manufacturer. Furthermore, all solar panels degrade and gradually generate less electricity over time.

The German solar monitoring firm, Meteocontrol, found that 80 percent of the 30,00 solar installations it reviewed in Europe were underperforming. Enertis Solar tested solar panels from 6 manufacturers at two power plants in Spain and found rates of malfunctioning as high as 34.5 percent. An inspection of a solar plant in Britain found that 12 percent of its Chinese modules failed. In the United States, an American solar manufacturer, First Solar, budgeted $271.2 million to replace defective modules it manufactured in 2008 and 2009.

Google was eager to learn about how its system performed. A review six months after installation revealed it was only getting about half of the power it expected.


Read the rest here.

  1. April 20, 2014 6:45 pm

    This does not surprise me in the least.

  2. April 20, 2014 7:04 pm

    What happens to the 20 to 30 year-old dead solar panels? Who pays fro what happens to them?

    • tom0mason permalink
      April 21, 2014 9:39 am

      They get replaced with windmills…

  3. Joe Public permalink
    April 20, 2014 8:25 pm

    So there’s light at the end of the tunnel for us subsidy-paying consumers.

    The more-rapid the panel degradation, the less we pay out.

    • April 20, 2014 9:03 pm

      …unless we have to pay to clean up after them Joe.

  4. April 20, 2014 10:17 pm

    When ever anyone talks of China’s dominance of “green” energy, I recall the fact that a Chinese activist just happened to be in the key BBC meeting that decided to push climate. I also recall that the University of East Anglia got a lot of money from some Chinese University.

    Why do you suppose China might have been so keen for the west to go “green”, put up its own energy costs, destroy its own industry and then have to buy Chinese? Altruism?

    • tom0mason permalink
      April 21, 2014 10:00 am

      I know of what you speak!

      Fu Manchu: “The entrance to eternity. Beyond that door there is a tunnel which leads directly to the sea. Cisterns of water are poised above it. The touch of a lever will release hundreds of thousands of gallons of water into that tunnel, and combined with professor Heracles’ crystals this can transform the entire sea into one gigantic block of ice.”


      From: Sax Rohmer’s The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)

  5. Chilli permalink
    April 21, 2014 2:36 pm

    Would be interesting to see a breakdown of the failure modes. I guess a cell going open-circuit or reducing its output wouldn’t be so bad, but a short-circuit cell could take the whole array down until it was removed or repaired.

  6. john hall permalink
    October 14, 2014 6:38 pm

    So WHY isn’t Jeremy Rifkin taking legal action against these solar panel companies and
    demanding an investigation as to why they’re letting this happen?You think Rifkin would let
    the Biotechnology industry get away with something like this?

  7. January 21, 2016 4:26 pm

    Except that now that the actual data has come out on the performance of nearly 50,000 recently installed PV solar systems across the U.S., the systems are found to typically produce more than predicted and the panel quality is still excellent (and that might be because name brand companies around the world, even the Chinese, are still using, with additions and improvements, independent tests developed by the JPL in the 80’s for weather resistance, hail resistance etc. The oldest PV system in the world is in Germany, is nearly 40 years old, continuous operation, zero panel failures….keep in mind that PV solar panels have no moving parts. Just for example: 20 year old system, with a not-so great-higher than the median-degradation rate of .8% per year, still produces 80% of the energy it produced when it was new. There is a reason why the typical 25-30 year warranty covers that. The degradation rate is quite small and not very significant for homeowners, as they are likely to replace appliances and inverters with more efficient ones every 15 years or so. What the study found is that inverter quality and proper installation is important. Use a NABCEP certified installer, get a good inverter with a long warranty, and yes, it is still possible to buy quality panels made in your home country. Also, banks, large investors and lenders to solar companies demand independent testing of panels for degradation rates, etc. etc. If a company fails that, they fail to get financing. The latest quality certification is Qualification Plus, designed to provide further assurance of long term durability and production line consistency. Notice even in this article….companies are testing them at the factory and putting a stop to it before the company gets a bunch of warranty calls, quality control is really in their own interest as well.

  8. Jim Houghton permalink
    March 9, 2016 12:45 pm

    I know it is a small sample, but I have been responsible for the installation of nearly 200 panels (48KWp) in the East Midlands in the UK. I monitor their performance on an almost daily basis and I can confirm that the panels continue to perform at 8% to 10% better than the installer’s predictions over the past 4 years.

  9. Kat Jordan permalink
    October 19, 2016 3:07 pm

    Also this article is missing critical details. Like were the “panels” on the LA warehouse plastic flexible ones that have no certifications? Sure, you can buy no-name fly by night ones or you can buy certified, warrantied, durable panels encased in independent-lab hail-tested tempered glass that have a 25-35 year warranty which has a power guarantee that is either linear or stepped. Some companies even have a bank back up their warranties so that customers could go to the bank if the solar company is not around in 20 years. It is typical for panels to still be producing 80% or more of their original production at 20 years of age. The Google experience refers to a lesson they learned about installation: don’t mount them perfectly flat (horizontal) next to a dusty farmer’s field. When it rains, the mud will puddle on them and dry on, and you will have to clean them often. Just mount them at some sort of angle, and the rain will wash them for you….most residential systems do not need cleaning, unless you live in a desert and just experienced a sand or dust storm.


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