Illuminating Ways to Manage Solar Manufacturing Quality Risks
The solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) phase-out and Section 201 Solar Tariffs on the import of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules are creating a perfect storm for increased risk to U.S. utility-scale solar projects. As utilities, developers and owners accelerate activity to secure the maximum federal tax credit for solar installations, new manufacturers are coming online or increasing production to meet these demands in Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.
For utility-scale solar, now is the time to embrace project best practices to manage supply issues and monitor PV module and component quality.
Surging Demand Increases Risk
Increased demand for solar projects creates unique issues all along the manufacturing supply chain. With global manufacturers at capacity, production problems coupled with tight delivery schedules can cause shipment delays and an elevated chance of defective equipment being received.
With many components needed for solar facilities, PV module, tracker, inverter and other manufacturers are striving to open new factories quickly and are pre-selling manufacturing capacities. In some cases, manufacturers are outsourcing production, so it is essential that their standard quality controls remain in place.
Tight margins and extreme cost pressures can also increase project risk and affect production and construction quality.
Safeguard Component Quality
For utility-scale solar projects, a proactive approach to quality is necessary to make sure schedules can be achieved, costs can be managed and long-term operation secured.
- Stringent specifications: Be clear about the technical and performance requirements of manufactured products. Include language in all specifications and contractual documents that define the level of product design, quality and reliability to protect against equipment issues.
- Due diligence: Perform sufficient due diligence on all equipment manufacturers. Understand supplier history, design and verification testing, quality controls, production scale and technologies, raw materials, technical audit processes and certifications.
- Production monitoring: Commit to factory observation and monitoring of equipment production. Given the dynamic environment of facilities, understanding first-hand the quality processes and production techniques for modules, trackers, inverters, transformers and other components. In addition, commit to field observation of installation practices to verify conformance with project requirements and manufacturer requirements and recommendations.
Managing component quality is central to lowering project risk so that project goals can be achieved. Therefore, partnering with an experienced, quality-focused contractor to perform the design, engineering, procurement and construction of solar projects is essential to maintaining quality control.
Bifacial PV systems — modules that allow light to enter from both the front and back sides of a solar panel — are likely to become the norm for utility-scale solar installations. Developers need to keep a pulse on these systems which result in improved production and performance.