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Hundreds of thousands of Scheuten Solar Holding-manufactured solar modules have been declared a fire risk by the Dutch Food and Goods Authority (NVWA).
As many as 650,000 Scheuten ‘Multisol’ PV modules distributed between September 2009 and October 2010 had been manufactured with an alleged design flaw in the junction boxes that would lead to “fretting corrosion of the tin plated contacts”.
The NVWA is concerned that the fault could lead to the melting of the junction box, which could result in PV string/system failure and a subsequent lack of identification by the inverter and/or system monitoring system.
If the modules had been installed “in-roof” as a BIPV system installation or on a fire sensitive roof, the melting junction box could potentially cause a serious fire.
The NVWA said in a warning statement that there had been 15 fires across Europe directly attributed PV systems using Scheuten modules. The modules with the faulty junction boxes were shipped across Europe, and were used in the UK as well as the US, Australia and China.
Last March, a new company, Scheutuen Solar Solutions, took over all commercial activities of the defunct Scheuten Solar Holding. Scheuten Solar Solutions is a completely separate company that has no legal liability for the faulty junction boxes.
In October, 2012, insurers acting for Scheuten Solar Holding decided that the matter should be dealt with by Suncycle, a company which specialises in test and repair services for the solar industry.
Suncycle was charged with identifying potentially affected systems. Once the systems were flagged up, Suncycle would apply a TÜV certified solution.
The modules in question are the Multisol P6-48, P6-54, P6-60 and P6-66 versions of the Multisol module that were supplied between August 2009 and February 2012. The junction box is labelled “Solexus” and made by Dutch firm, Alrack.
According to Dr. Mischa Paterna, Suncycle CEO, the insurance company has paid out for repairs on all the "high risk" systems - for example, BIPV systems and public buildings such as schools. He added that the high risk systems were identified and corrective measures completed.
But Dr. Paterna said this would only account for approximately 10% of the modules potentially affected.
Suncycle said that it had carried out a “route-cause analysis of the fault”, clearly identifying the junction box as the problem. A key part of the approved corrective procedure was re-soldering and full-filling of the junction box with potting agent. However, Dutch authorities now want to undertake lifetime tests of their own to see if this repair will last the service lifetime of the modules.
In addition, the company that manufactured the junction boxes, Alrack, is refuting the findings of the NVWA.
In a statement on its website Alrack said: “NVWA gives the impression that the problem would only occur with the Alrack Solexus junction boxes…Analysis shows that the problems still arise with junction boxes from different vendors and are caused by a Scheuten Solar design error.”
Alrack also claims the Junction box was a Scheuten patented design made exclusively by Alrack for Scheuten, negating any liability claims.
However, studies by the French General Directorate for Competition Policy, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control concluded that several PV system fires were caused by defective junction boxes produced by Alrack.
The biggest issue outstanding is what will happen to the remaining 90% of the modules. The bankruptcy of Scheuten Solar means that there was “no one professional voice managing the issue,” noted Dr Paterna.
Dr. Paterna believes that many installers fear they will liable for the cost of repairs. “Installers have therefore been very hesitant in registering with us [their] customer details,” he added.
The public announcement in the Netherlands and subsequent media coverage places renewed pressure on installers to fully inform customers of the risks and provide the specified repairs.
France has been badly affected by the use of the faulty modules, witnessing the first fires. The country has a large number of ‘in-roof’ BIPV installations, thanks to a previously generous feed-in tariff for ‘in-roof’ installations.
In July 2012, two French trade associations TPAMPS and GPPEP warned members that there was a fire risk due to defective junction boxes. The French General Directorate for Competition Policy, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control undertook an investigation into the fires and documented the defective junction boxes produced by Altrak were the cause, not the modules.
One of the many European countries that Scheuten Solar operated in was the UK, having gained MCS certification in April 2010 for the Multisol series.
According to Dr. Paterna several customers and installers did contact Suncycle last year. Suncycle has said it would provide details of the number of modules shipped to the UK as soon as possible.
The new Scheuten Solar published a statement on its website reiterating that Scheuten Solar Solutions was not connected to the bankrupt Scheuten Solar Holding and that the insolvency administrator for the defunct firm would be responsible for all matters related to the faulty Multisol modules and junction boxes. However, there was no information on how the insolvency firm would be able to support repairs.
After the latest round of Dutch government agency meetings that took place at the beginning of the week, the NVWA issued the fire hazard warning and also ran adverts in Dutch newspapers and on public radio to make customers fully aware of the problem. European agencies had previously warned of the hazards.
All affected PV systems that have not been correctly repaired should be switched-off by a certified installer or electrician until the repairs are made.
Peter Bennett, Editor of sister publication, Solar Power Portal UK contributed to this story.