The influence of manufacturing quality on the reliability of PV modules coming out of today's factories has been, and is still, under estimated among investors and buyers. The main reason is perception. Contrary to popular belief, PV modules are not a commodity. Module quality does differ among module brands. Certification alone does not guarantee the quality or reliability of a module. Cost reductions in manufacturing have unequivocally affected module quality. And the use of new, cheaper materials has had a measureable impact on module reliability.
The need for meaningful manufacturing quality standards has been understood by the leading technical institutions and important industry players. The fact that most leading PV panel manufacturers have been certified according to ISO 9001 has led to some level of improvement and higher effectiveness. The new ISO 9001 PV QMS standards will be a major step in providing a tool to assess PV manufacturers' quality management systems. The current lack of sufficient standards has still got a negative influence on the quality of modules being installed today. Today every manufacturer builds their modules in their own way with little standardization or adherence to quality processes and methods, which are commonplace in other manufacturing industries. Although photovoltaic technology is to a great extent mature, the way modules are being produced has changed significantly over the past few years and it continues to change at a rapid pace.
Investors, financiers and lenders stand the most to gain from PV systems over the long-term, but also the most to lose. Investors, developers, EPC, O&M and solar asset management companies must all manage manufacturing quality more proactively or they will face unexpected risks and failures down the road. Manufacturing quality deserves more transparency and attention, as it is a major driver of module performance and reliability.
This paper will explain the benefits of good manufacturing quality and the dangers in poor manufacturing quality. The paper also explains why buyers and long-term investors need to pay close attention to the day-to-day manufacturing quality of module manufacturers. We demonstrate how these quality risks can be assessed and mitigated by independent diligence, professional contracting and smart quality assurance processes that can be easily built into any module procurement process. We highlight the steps to ensure that every module used in a PV system is built to quality standards that support the long-term reliability of a PV system.