Solar Module Quality

Solar module quality is very difficult for most people and installers to see and understand. All too often I hear comments from installers that they want to purchase the cheapest solar module they can without any regard of the quality of the solar module.  I have been in the solar industry since 1989 and find this such a shame for the industry as a whole.

Not all solar modules are made the same and it is very hard to tell high quality from low quality and this is true even for myself.  Without a testing lab and the ability to understand the materials used to construct solar modules it is hard to tell them apart. In the seven years I spent working for a solar module manufacturer  and in talking to several quality & design engineers a lot of less expensive solar modules are made with inexpensive low quality components.

For example the backsheet is a critical component needed to keep moisture out of the solar module. Without the ability to test the backsheet in a lab how can an installer or end user tell them apart? Here is a quick list of the items I look at when trying to learn about a solar module:

  1. What else is the manufacturer telling me about their product?
    • For example one manufacturer I know talks about the 50 backsheet manufacturers that they tested to find only 8 that meet their high quality standards. I would personally love to know who the 42 other backsheet manufacturers sell to so I don’t buy their products.
  2.  How much testing does their module undergo?
    • If all the manufacturer can say is they meet UL standards that isn’t enough. I want to hear about how far beyond these minimum standards they test their modules. Just meeting UL standards doesn’t ensure any quality in the solar module as these standards are primarily safety standards.
  3. What are others saying about their quality?
    • Read forums used by installers to learn about their experiences and in some cased horror stories.
  4. What kind of warranty experience do others have with their products?
    • The forums are a great source for how manufacturers process warranties.
  5. How much automation is used in the manufacturing of their solar module?
    • A solar module can hand 2000+ connections inside of it and hand soldiering is low quality. Unfortunately this is very common in countries with low labor costs as people are less expensive then automation.
  6. How new is the solar manufacturer and how much experience do they have in making solar modules?
    • It takes a lot of experience to make a quality solar module. When a manufacturer is new they will go through a learning curve and I don’t want that to be at my expense.