Challenges of global supply chain for PV modules and inverters

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Share on email
Email

Continuing to grow impressively, solar power capacity has been multiplied by a factor of 100 since 2000. In 2014 alone, 40GW was installed around the world, according to the latest Global Market Outlook report from Solar Power Europe.

Another trend is the growing size of PV power plants, with some under construction totalling hundreds of megawatts, requiring the installation of millions of solar panels. Using components, products and suppliers from different parts of the world has become the norm in large solar power projects. A project implementing the expertise of a Chinese PV module manufacturer, European PV inverters and component supplier, a Spanish EPC and a local South American investor is one example illustrating the big challenges of geographical distribution logistics and expected quality standards for international solar projects.

Project owners, investors, lenders and other parties involved in large-scale PV power plant projects need to be sure that ordered products are in line with given specifications, fulfill life-cycle requirements and perform as expected. To deal with these issues, professional inspections, tests and evaluations by an independent third party should be integrated into the supply chain serving solar projects.

Proper testing is becoming increasingly important as solar increases its global footprint. Image: Hanwha Q CELLS.

Step one: find reliable suppliers and products that meet project-specific needs

When considering potential suppliers and products for certain projects, it is recommended that detailed initial factory audits be carried out by a third party, preferably an independent organisation also able to perform regular local supplier audits later on. The aim of the initial audit is to identify weaknesses in the production processes and quality management, and to elaborate mitigation measures to reduce product-related risks.

At an early stage this kind of inspection can also be used to benchmark with other suppliers to determine the most suitable one for a certain project or as basis for building up a long-term partnership for the use of respective products in various projects.

Most solar modules are certified, meaning that they meet the basic requirements of solar modules in regards of design (IEC 61215) and safety (IEC 61730). However, for specific projects it is recommended to test and qualify beyond respective standards, e.g. to meet site- and climate-specific requirements and to satisfy the risk profile of parties involved. Therefore, the qualification process and its scope should be solely determined based on individual client requirements. Factory audits and laboratory testing of product samples for pre-qualification including, but not limited to power determination, electroluminescence inspections and climate chamber testing should be carried out according to the individual project time frame and needs.

The production line and warehouse as well as the capability and capacity of the manufacturer should also be examined to ensure that project-specific orders can be completed on time according to the contracted quantities and specified quality levels.

Step two: in-line and pre-shipment inspections

At the very least, in-line inspections should be conducted on a spot-check basis throughout the production of PV modules for each respective project. After following up on possible issues detected during the initial inspection, further inspections along the manufacturing process – including verification of the manufacturer Quality Assurance System – are performed to ensure that products meet specifications agreed to in the contract.

Finally, pre-shipment inspections including additional verification tests on samples randomly drawn from the final goods and examination to ensure that packaging is correct and that the products have been loaded into containers in accordance with the purchase order should also be conducted.

The in-line and pre-shipment inspections help to detect any issues that could influence the progress of a PV project negatively. Rejecting a batch of PV modules after having arrived on site will not only lead to big discussions and with the manufacturer, but might cause delay, liquidated damages payments or the loss of a feed-in tariff. Therefore, pre-shipment inspections are deemed essential to mitigate respective risk and to contribute to a smooth PV power plant construction with products of expected quality.

Power verification to meet yield expectations

The testing programme of PV modules during the shipment phase should include power verification in order to determine that rated power provided by the manufacturer reflects the actual power measured by an independent third party. The calculation of the plant energy production, also called energy yield, and estimated performance (for example expressed as a performance ratio) should be evaluated in detail. Financial risk affiliated with differences in rated and actual power can be outlined in concrete terms. If, for example, the output of a 200MW power plant is just 1% lower, the loss can amount to roughly €7 million (US$7.89 million) over a period of 20 years.

All-round risk management throughout the supply chain

It is essential for solar project owners, investors and contractors to carry out appropriate risk assessments prior to the project. The only way to reliably estimate and minimise risks is to conduct a thorough expert analysis. Starting in the planning phase, this includes selecting products and suppliers that are truly suitable for the solar power plant as well as conducting tests and inspections before and after shipment and extending right up to monitoring the proper installation. This helps to eliminate unpleasant obstacles further down the road.

11 May 2021
Join this Talesun Solar webinar focused on providing an insight into the company’s next-generation series of large-area, high-efficiency PERC (Passivated Emitter Rear Cell) modules. These are available in both monofacial (‘BiStar’) and bifacial (‘BiPro’) formats, using 182mm half-cut cells in 144 and 156 cell configurations and provide up to 590Wp performance with efficiencies of up to 21.2%.
11 May 2021
Green Hydrogen: always the future never the now? Join us on 11-12 & 18-19 May for a fresh look at what’s fast becoming a reality. Governments across the world have put hydrogen at the centre of their decarbonisation plans with billions of dollars allocated to stimulating the market and whilst individual strategies will differ, the theme is the same: green hydrogen is the fuel of the future. Its role goes beyond energy use and there is already an active off-take market. From the perspective of renewable generators, hydrogen can play a pivotal role in enabling unsubsidised projects to work in a low power price environment and provide another business model in areas where the grid is congested. Hydrogen could also be the driver of a new wave of renewable installations as countries’ hydrogen plans hinge on new capacity being available.
26 May 2021
Tara Doyle and Tristan Erion-Lorico of PV Evolution Labs (PVEL), will share this year’s top-performing modules and discuss key findings from PVEL’s PQP testing. Join us to explore which find out which new Top Performer category can affect project value by more than $100,000 – and which test resulted in >20% degradation.
15 June 2021
Looking at the drivers and dynamics of utility scale solar in the UK over the next five years. This event will consider the immediate challenges as we enter the build phase in the UK market where we could see as much as 3GW deployed in 2021 alone! What developments will continue the growth of 100MW+ sites and what impact will government policy have on the rate of deployment in the UK? Join leading developers and manufacturers shaping the direction of one of Europe’s most active markets and hear from speakers with a history of influencing innovation and change.
6 July 2021
Explore in depth the opportunities of the different countries via case studies, business and financial models that will foster growth in the region with particular focus on Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, Korea, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia & Vietnam.
13 July 2021
Energy Next is a new industry exhibition focusing on the latest renewable energy and energy efficiency technology, which will be held for the first time in 2021 in Sydney, Australia alongside the Clean Energy Council’s Australian Clean Energy Summit, the peak gathering of leaders driving Australia's energy transformation. Organised by the same people behind Australia’s largest clean energy event, All-Energy Australia, Energy Next will give visitors two days of access to key suppliers in the industry, free-to-attend professional development and industry workshops, and networking opportunities to better understand clean energy issues and solutions and learn about the latest developments in this transformational, dynamic sector.

Read Next

May 5, 2021
Europe’s solar industry has lauded the inclusion of a commitment to "re-ignite" Europe's solar manufacturing sector within the European Commission’s refreshed industrial strategy.
May 5, 2021
A round-up of news from the US solar sector, including updates from the Department of Energy, private equity firm American Securities, and Indiana developer Hoosier.
May 5, 2021
New solar and wind assets in the US are now cheaper to operate than nearly 80% of existing coal-fired generators in the country and could replace the asset class while delivering numerous benefits to consumers, a report has found.
May 5, 2021
Governments worldwide must ensure that there are sufficient raw materials available to solar and energy storage developers to safeguard the energy transition.
May 5, 2021
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has selected three commercial-scale green hydrogen projects that will share in AU$103 million (US$79.7 million) of funding to support their development.
May 5, 2021
SHV Energy, a Netherlands-based liquified petroleum gas (LPG) distributor, has acquired a majority stake in Indian solar developer SunSource Energy.

Subscribe to Newsletter

Upcoming Events

Solar Media Events
May 11, 2021
Upcoming Webinars
May 26, 2021
Session 1 - 7:00 AM (BST) | Session 2 - 5:00 PM (BST)
Solar Media Events
June 15, 2021
Solar Media Events
July 6, 2021