Recently released investigation shows Phono Solar and Kyocera Solar top list of highly-accelerated lifetime tests.

Millions of low-quality solar panels have been installed on Australian roofs in the past decade. This unfortunately occurred because our solar market was primarily comprised of residential installations, and because mums and dads lack the expertise to differentiate panel quality.

Therefore a great deal of responsibility for selling good quality product falls onto the heads of PV retailers. And any PV retailer interested in remaining profitable for more than six months has some self-interest in choosing a good quality panel manufacturer, as:

  1. If the solar panels you sell fail in early years, then you will face labour, material, and back-office costs in replacing them and supporting your customers
  2. If the solar panels you sell underperform, you customers will be unhappy, and unlikely to recommend your business. Depending on the performance claims you made, under Australian Consumer Law you may even be financially liable to pay your customers for the energy you failed to deliver.
  3. If your solar panel manufacturer goes bust - which can happen from selling poor quality product, selling below cost, being small and unable to compete, or for any myriad of commercial reasons – then you may be left unable to service warranty claims yourself.

Given this apparent self-interest, why does Australia have a large proportion of Tier 3 solar panels – as much as 40% in recent years, according to Green Energy Trading. I believe that “PV retailers wanting to make a quick buck” is too simplistic an answer. Competitive pressure to sell a low-cost product certainly is certainly part of the reason, but there are plenty of quality solar panel brands that are impressively affordable – as we’ll see clear example of in a moment. Consumer preferences certainly play a part. But I think I think one of the major reasons is because solar industry professionals don’t have enough information to make an informed decision – in summary, a lack of a universal testing standard for solar panel longevity and whole-of-life performance means solar companies and their customers are making sub-optimal decisions.

At present, for a solar panel to be sold in Australia, it has to meet a set of minimum standards that ensure its safe operation, catches infant mortality failure mechanisms, and which grade its power production levels under standardised test conditions. Meeting these product standards is pretty much a requirement of being installed in any developed country. But these “golden panel” tests don’t provide any information about how the panel will perform over time, in real life conditions, nor how long the panel will last. Indeed, as a recent bulletin from the CEC illustrated, some of the panels sold internationally contain different components or don’t meet the rated power output of the ‘golden panels’ they supplied when meeting their IEC minimum requirements. 

Last week, the CEC presented problems uncovered by its PV module testing program. Our 2016 testing program targeted seven manufacturers based on complaints and reports received by the CEC. We purchased the modules from local trade suppliers and sent them to be tested at a university laboratory.

The tests revealed a number of issues:

  • Modules from four manufacturers measured an average of 4.4% below their rated output.
  • More seriously, five manufacturers had substituted components during the production of the modules. Their modules were subsequently de-listed.

These findings reinforce the need for retailers and installers to use quality modules to protect themselves and their customers. Please consider getting your own tests done to confirm the modules you use are compliant.

 

The lack of a universal testing standard for solar panel longevity and whole-of-life performance is an issue not constrained to Australia – it’s something that is being addressed globally; albeit at a slow pace. One of the leaders in independent testing is DNV-GL, and its “PV Module Reliability Scorecard Report 2016” provides illuminating reading for anyone interested in product longevity.

DNV-GL’s report summarises the various studies on panel degradation rates, and provides a great summary illustration on the many ways which panels can fail or wear out – shown below. The report highlights an NREL study that shows the median panel degradation rate is 0.4-0.5%/year for high quality panels, but 0.9-1.0%/year for all panels tested.

Considering solar panels are commonly sold as having a 25+ year performance warranty, as well as a 10+ year product warranty. But considering “85% of the 234 GW of installed global PV capacity has been in the field for less than five years” how confident can you be that the solar panels you’re buying (or selling) will last the distance?

DNV-GL

DNV-GL’s testing simulates the real-life conditions that solar panels will face over their entire lifetime. It does this by subjecting the panels to thousands of hours of testing through thermal cycling, damp heat, humidity-freeze, dynamic mechanical loads, and PID – more extreme, extended, and lengthy tests than occur in the IEC minimum standards. The testing was performed on panels sourced from the market (rather than ‘golden panels’ used in IEC testing), but was constrained to manufacturers who volunteered to be tested: CSUN, Hanwha, JA Solar, Jinko, Kyocera, Phono Solar, Q-Cells, REC, RECOM, Tenksolar, Trina, Yingli, and ZNShine.

The results indicate a wide variation between the best and worst panel in each test. For example, the top-performing panel after the Thermal Cycling test suffered only 1% degradation; the worst suffered 35% degradation; for the Damp Heat Test and the PID test, the range of results was from 0% degradation at best to 58% degradation at worst. The range of degradation that occurs after some tests should be cause for alarm – though there are many panels that pass the tests with flying colours, there are some panels out there that simply won’t last the distance.

Of course, these tests don’t perfectly replicate the conditions that an individual panel will encounter, but they provide a far better indication of how a panel will respond to the environmental stresses that nature could throw at it over its lifetime. For example, most panels in Australia won’t encounter the snow-focussed environment simulated by the Humidity-Freeze test, and some of the tests emulate humid or desert locations.

But in my mind, simply volunteering your panel to be subjected to this more rigorous test indicates a manufacturer is serious about panels that will perform well for a long life. In DNV-GL’s words, “The mere participation in the PVEL Product Qualification Program indicates already the importance that the participating manufacturers place on the reliability of their products. Because of this the average and median results presented here may be better than the average and median results of the industry taken as a whole.”

Multiple Choice Question:
A solar panel, sold today will last for 25 years.

  1. TRUE
  2. FALSE
  3. We don’t know yet

 

The table below summarises where each brand was listed as a top performer against a test, or whether it was listed as having passed the test. (Where a manufacturer isn’t listed against a test indicates they either didn’t submit to that test in the first place, or they didn’t wish to be named in the results for that test). The table illustrates that the top performers across the range of tests were Kyocera and Phono Solar.

 

 

What stands out at me from these results:

  1. Now, having visited Japan a couple of times, I’m impressed at Japanese mastery at whatever they set their mind to, whether it be knives, solar panels, or whisky J. But Japan’s solar market has been soaking up most of Japanese-made solar panels for quite a few years now, making it difficult to get your hands on Kyocera panels at a reasonable price.
  2. Phono Solar’s has excellent results for a panel that is very affordable – indeed it’s about half the price of Kyocera panels.
  3. The location of the manufacturer doesn’t necessarily indicate quality – Chinese manufacturers perform quite well in the list.

In DNV-GL’s words: “We find three key takeaways from the Scorecard’s test results.

  • Overall, many module vendors performed well across all tests. For example, 8 manufacturers degraded less than 3% after 4 times the IEC duration in Thermal Cycling (the IEC pass/fail criteria for 200 cycles is 5% degradation).
  • Two manufacturers performed in the top group on every test: Kyocera and Phono Solar.
  • Roughly 55 – 60% of top group modules were manufactured in China. This is roughly equivalent to the ratio of Chinese module participation in the full PV Module Reliability Scorecard. This demonstrates that manufacturing location is not a good proxy for reliability.”

Now, DNV-GL’s isn’t the only scorecard out there. BNEF’s tiering system is another product evaluation method that is often misunderstood to directly assess product quality. Indeed, BNEF’s Tier 1 List states explicitly “We strongly recommend that module purchasers and banks to do not use [BNEF’s Tier 1] list as a measure of quality, but instead consult a technical due diligence firm such as …. DNV-GL” (and others). BNEF is actually a quantitative measure of bankability, not quality. There are also ratings schemes that measure manufacturer’s environmental sustainability and financial viability, which can also be considerations for module purchasers. In Australia, we also have some local schemes operating:

  • The CEC (which manages the list of panels that meet the minimum standard) also publish which panels have met some additional independent quality measures. Look for “independent quality measures” in the list of approved solar modules.
  • The CEC has recently updated the terms and conditions of listing a solar panel, which place more stringent requirements upon panel manufacturers or importers, in particular to provide appropriate levels of customer support and meet warranty requirements. Look for “Meets new CEC T&Cs” in the list of approved solar modules
  • The CEC has also been testing independently-sourced products to ensure they meet the claims made on their international certificates, and de-listing products that produce less power than quoted, or use different materials to those originally specified.
  • There are some reference sites where in-field performance of a number of panel brands is tested and compared, in a single environment. The DKA solar centre is an example of this.
  • We also have the Positive Quality scheme (run by the Australian Solar Council), which unfortunately hasn’t reached critical mass with four manufacturers listed.

To summarise,

  1. It’s in the self-interest of a PV retailer to sell product that will perform well over a long life
  2. The only way we will know the actual performance of a solar panel over 25 years is by monitoring it for 25 years. But by that time the technology will have evolved and improved, and so the outcome will be meaningless.
  3. Highly-accelerated lifetime testing can identify which panels are more likely to survive the environmental extremes solar panels could be exposed to over their full life.
  4. BNEF’s bankability list is not a measure of panel quality.
  5. There is no universal test of panel quality, so it is up to solar retailers to do their due diligence, using tests such as DNV-GL’s.
  6. DNV-GL’s test rates Kyocera and Phono Solar panels as likely to perform best for many years of typical environmental exposure.
| Category: News |

Believe the Hype: Australia's Battery Market is set for eye-watering growth

For quite some time I'd dismissed the hype about the attractiveness of installing grid-connected batteries in Australia. Yes, everyone loves the idea of energy independence, and would love to give the middle finger to the electricity retailers who buy excess solar power at a fifth of the price they themselves charge. But I thought there would be few people willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars to do so. On top of that, though Tesla had created a surge of interest, most PV retailers were struggling to convert that into sales, or had limited product supply options.

When I surveyed the market in April 2016, respondents reported that only although half of solar power enquiries were asking about batteries, barely 2% of people who bought a solar power system actually bought a battery with it. Back in April, the median respondent forecast there to be 850 installations nationwide in 2016, totalling 28MWh; 75% of respondents expected fewer than 5500 installations would occur last year.

My what a difference half a year can make! In the second half of 2016, more products came to market, Tesla announced a major price drop, and lo and behold batteries became an affordable option (for some). Using SunWiz's PVsell software, the dashboard below demonstrates that an Adelaide household can get a 7 year payback on a 5kW PV system with 13kWh of storage, if they have moderately high energy consumption (25 kWh/day). In the process, they can generate 88% of their energy needs, reduce their solar export by three-quarters, and reduce their grid draw by 72%.

Its no wonder that Australia is about to become one of the top countries in the world for battery installations. 

But how do we know what's actually been installed? Whereas the STC incentive means SunWiz can track PV installations with a high degree of accuracy and deep resolution, no such data source exists for batteries. While distribution network operators may seem the natural focal point of data collection, our discussions with network operators revealed they are largely unaware of the true volumes of batteries that are being installed on their network. So, in order to provide some transparency into what is otherwise a highly opaque market, SunWiz has had to personally interview over 60 battery market leaders. And by leveraging SunWiz's status as trusted independent solar analyst, we have been given unprecedented amount of information (most of which we must keep confidential), and this has been compiled into a report that provides unparalleled insight.

The report shows:

  1. 6750 battery installations occurred in 2016, up from 500 in 2015. This means that 5% of new PV systems included energy storage in 2016.
  2. New South Wales and Queensland led installations in 2016.
  3. Because most of the installations occurred in the latter part of the year, we are confident there will be at least a three-fold increase (and more likely a fourfold increase) on these number in 2017. This would mean one in five new PV installations in 2017 includes batteries.
  4. There was a record volume of capacity installed in major projects, rollouts, and distribution network trials.

Our full report provides a rich dataset of research, survey, and industry opinion that will inform the strategies of storage manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers for the year ahead. It includes a full details of the volumes installed in 2015 and 2016, forecasts for 2017 and beyond, commentary and insights into market trends, details of battery pricing and financials, a listing of the top ranks of manufacturers wholesalers and retailers, and comprehensive coverage of the key news of 2016. More information on the report can be found at http://www.sunwiz.com.au/index.php/battery-market-report-2017.html

 

 

| Category: Newsletter |

SunWiz today released the results of its extensive surveys, interviews, and research into the Australian market for energy storage.

SunWiz's research concludes that there were at 6750 battery installations in 2016, totalling 52MWh. To put this into context, there were 130,000 installations of solar power systems in 2016, meaning that effectively 5% of solar installations included batteries in the past year.

Says Warwick Johnston, Managing Director of SunWiz "6750 installations in 2016 represents exceptional growth in the Australian battery market, coming off the back of 500 battery installations in 2015. What makes it all the more impressive is that most installations occurred in the latter part of the year, setting up 2017 to be another year of remarkable growth". Johnston says "SunWiz expects the market to treble in 2017, suggesting 15% of new solar installations will include energy storage this year."

New South Wales was the #1 location for battery installations, followed closely by Queensland. South Australia has the most favourable market for battery installations, owing to large amounts of sunlight, high electricity prices, and subsidy programs from government, AGL, and SAPN - all of which contribute towards some solar-storage systems having 7-year paybacks before subsidy.

2016 was also the largest year for storage projects. Highlights inlcude the 2MWh installation at the Sandfire Copper Mine, the 1.1MWh community installation at Alkimos Beach, and the ACT auction.

Survey respondents from solar retailers indicated that 70% of sales enquiries for solar also enquire about batteries. Customers are interested in the ability of batteries to become grid-independent, reduce electricity bills, and make more efficient use of their solar panels.

The report, which was based on hundreds of hours of interviews, surveys, and research, provides transparency into what is otherwise a very opaque market. Johnston says "our interviews highlighted the storage market is in its infancy and market education is required. Customer expectations of batteries differ markedly from the capabilities and value proposition of most offerings on the market, and salespeople are also caught up in the excitement. Batteries aren't yet a commodity - one size doesn't fit all and tools such as PVsell can help identify which is the best option for individual customers. 

For more information or to order your copy of the report, visit http://sunwiz.com.au/index.php/battery-market-report-2017.html or call Warwick Johnston on 0413361534

 

 

| Category: Newsletter |

At one point, 2016 looked like an abysmal year for Australian solar. But 2016 turned out to be record breaking year for solar, in many regards. You'll get all the information you need here, but here are some of the highlights.

  1. Though the headline utility-scale figures indicate a come-down of mammoth proportions, it was always going to be impossible to fill the gap left by Nyngan, Broken Hill, and Moree - heavily-subsided projects over five years in the making. However, if we exclude systems exceeding 20MW (Baracaldine being the only project last year above this threshold), there was actually significant growth. There was a record volume of systems in the 5-20MW range: Mugga Lane, Williamsdale, and Dugrussa (Sandfire), as well as growth in every other size category above 100kW.
    | Category: Newsletter |

    Read more: Solar Highlights - a recordbreaking 2016

 

SunWiz is researching installations that exceed 100kW, as part of our reporting to the International Energy Agency's PV working group, APVI's "PV In Australia", and CEC's "Clean Energy Australia" report. We are the key market analyst responsible for tallying the PV installation volume that was commissioned each year, and we rely on multiple data sources. The STC registry provides the best snapshot of the volume of sub-100kW systems, but for systems over 100kW the LGC Registry isn't as up-to-date or complete. So we track key market announcements, interview leading installers, and survey the market (which is what we're doing now). As you can see from the image below we currently have identified 33 projects totalling nearly 80MW that we understand have been commissioned in 2016.

We'd greatly appreciate if you can let us know if you've installed a PV system over 100kW that was commissioned in 2015 that isn't listed below. Projects are listed in descending order of capacity. Please email project details to warwick@sunwiz.com.au.  

25MW Barcaldine Remote Community Solar Farm
Mugga Lane Solar Park
Williamsdale Solar Farm
Degrussa Solar
Darwin International Airport Stage 1
Solar Choice & Solar Fields - Mount Majura Solar Farm
Yulara Solar
Adelaide Airport 1MW
Sunshine Plaza Melbourne
Karratha Solar Farm
Barangaroo Sydney
Sydney International Convention Centre
Dobinsons Spring & Suspension
The Canberra Hospital
2 Faulding Street Symonston
Alice Plaza
AustChilli
Karama Shopping Plaza
Royal Australian Mint
Hibiscus Shopping Centre
Sunny Crumpton Solar
Bundaberg Christian College
BUPA Traralgon 200kWp
Gippsland Grammar
North Melbourne Rec Center & Football Club Combined Tender
BUPA Templestowe
Renmark Self Storage
BUPA Pottsville 175kWp
St Kilda Town Hall
Bianco Construction Supplies Solar System
BUPA Mildura 150kWp
Bianco Precast Solar System
BUPA Bendigo 120kWp

 

 

| Category: Newsletter |
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