US solar tariffs prompt module quality warning

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US duties on Chinese and Taiwanese PV imports will make the quality of cells and modules harder to ascertain, a procurement expert has warned.

Ian Gregory, co-founder of module quality advisory firm, SolarBuyer, told PV Tech US tariffs had caused disruption to already opaque supply chains, making it difficult for investors to be sure of what they are buying.

Although certification regimes are in place to guarantee module quality, Gregory said a lack of transparency in many producers’ operations meant consistency in manufacturing standards was already almost impossible to monitor.

Gregory said this situation had become even more pronounced since Chinese manufacturers, which meet a large proportion of US solar demand, had begun looking for ways around duties.

“Things are kind of upside down at the moment because of the tariffs,” Gregory said. “It’s disrupted the supply chain significantly. We’ve now got many manufacturers not building modules where they were six months ago, not building them how they were building them six months ago and maybe sub-contracting to different companies in different countries.

“The way a module is designed, the materials it’s made of and where and how it’s made all impact quality. So in the US market, because of the tariff, that bit about how and where it’s made has to a great extent completely changed.”

Gregory cited ReneSola as an example of what is going on in the market more broadly. The Chinese producer has already publicly said it is now outsourcing production to new territories in order to avoid US duties, while a number of other Chinese and Taiwanese suppliers have indicated they are considering similar moves.

“In terms of consistency and quality that’s a new challenge for banks and investors,” he said.

Gregory added that the tariffs imposed in the US would create additional cost pressures just as the industry exits a period of brutal cost reductions, potentially further impacting quality.

“The dumping and subsidy investigations in the US have also been heavily focused on price and cost and not on quality, so that hasn’t helped,” he added.

ReneSola told PV Tech that it was confident in its OEM partners and that it transplanted staff and its own procedures to guarnetee quality standards matched those of its own facilities.

“To ensure the quality of our products is always at the same high level, the ReneSola group actively engages TUV with testing. For example, some reliability tests for IEC61215 & IEC61730 on modules from all OEM partners are running in the Lab of TUV Nord now,” a spokeswoman said. “These tests are just one example of ReneSola’s due diligence and will be carried out once every year at a minimum.

“OEM team members are mostly from ReneSola JiangSu factory or from well-regarded organisations such as TUV. All of them are equipped with extensive experience in production, or quality assurance, or from a laboratory, or a process background. They are well-skilled for communication and for operations. Considering all of this, ReneSola is highly confident in the team and in our quality assurance,” she added.

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