US Solar Industry at Risk with Low Quality Products Flooding the Market

By Elmar Niewerth, CEO ThinkSolar

Lowquality solar panels from inexperienced manufacturers are stored in U.S. portsand warehouses, poised to hit the market whenever possible. With the steadyincrease in module brands and types – almost 3,000 at the beginning of 2009 -contractors should be aware that not all solar panels are created equal.

Savingcents on the watt by installing products from unproven manufacturers can hurtcontractors and investors in the long run. When the products malfunction or thebrand disappears from the market, installers will be left holding the legal bagon 20-25 year warranties.

Justlast year in Spain, many euphoric investors were wiped out by low qualityproducts lacking certification. The aftermath of “fixing” MegaWatt-sized solar farms was, and continues to be, financially disastrous formany.

Inthe 1980’s, unreliable products inundated the U.S. solar thermal market,deeply injuring the industry. In a very short period of time, the entireAmerican solar market was dead and has taken decades to rebuild confidence inrenewable energy.

So,where is quality found? For starters, look to reputable solar distributors.Since they are the ones “on the hook” when a problem occurs, mostexperienced distributors steer clear of low quality vendors and products. If aproduct does fail, distributors can access a direct line to the manufacturersand act as advocates for their installer clients.

Alsolook to brands that experienced solar investors and European banks are backing,those that can stand behind the product warranties and be held responsible incase of expensive recalls, which are not uncommon, even for name brandmanufacturers.

InEurope, all lending institutions require ongoing certification. Year afteryear, the stamp of approval from agencies like TUV Rheinland, InternationalElectrotechnical Commission (IEC), and Fraunhofer Institute ISE keeps qualityhigh and lets contractors know which modules are reliable.

Unfortunately,as silicon-based solar module prices continue to fall far below productioncosts, those companies facing the biggest challenges are the ones offering thebest products: the long-established, experienced manufactures with exceptionalquality control.

Likeany other growing, seminal industry, experienced support is essential forsuccess. Right now even high quality products can be bought for reasonableprices. There is no need for nominal savings with the consequence of riskingbusiness, investments or simply the reputation of the solar industry.

Growinga healthy, sustainable solar market should be the goal of everyone involved inthis burgeoning industry. Manufacturer quality control is the essential firststep to achieving this mission.

ThinkSolar,a national solar distributor and integrator, is a subsidiary of SolarMarkt AGfounded in Germany in 1985. CEO Elmar Niewerth, has been a  leader in thefield since 1995, and a featured presenter at several notable solar conferencesand events, including a Texas State Legislative hearing on renewable energy anda solar fact-finding meeting with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.