Quality vs. Quantity. Where do we stand?
A commonly asked question to Skyward Solar Power Company is,”What solar panels/modules do you use?”
Skyward is often approached by manufacturers asking us to utilize their product as the choice module for our solar installations. These manufacturers come from all around the globe from countries such as Germany, China, Canada, Japan, Netherlands, Mexico, Philippines, and of course the USA. Our challenge is to find what differentiates one manufacturer from another and create a group of favorites to select from. This is difficult because the once clear differentiating gaps have closed and a great many solar module manufacturers meet the quality and performance bench marks now typically demanded as standard. Ultimately, does this mean that solar modules will become a commodity and are chosen by price?
It may shake out to this and China will be the driver. Once upon a time, solar modules made in China had a less than best in terms of quality – low cost and cheap reputation. A pillar of solar is quality – solar systems are designed, engineered, and installed for 30 years of almost automatic and seamless power production. Therefore, panels were selected as German made, US made or Japanese made. But this is no longer true.
Today, many Chinese manufacturers meet the quality demands expected but at a much lower price. The past differentiators of watts per square foot, tight power tolerances, efficiency, and mechanical and power warranties are standard expectations and no longer the clear differentiators they once were. Manufacturers such as SolarWorld known for their consistently high quality and proven top performance world- wide now must compete against manufactures who also can deliver the key differentiators but at a much lower price. This new world is going to be a paradigm shift for industry leaders such as SolarWorld.
Three years ago, I installed Sanyo solar modules on my own house. I chose Sanyo because of their unique engineering that included layering thin film technology with monocrystalline technology, which was not available from any other manufacturer. The Sanyos work beautifully and I consider them high performance solar modules. I later installed them on a commercial project and monitor their performance against a month by month benchmark expectation. Again, their production is excellent. However, I have not installed them since. The reason simply is I can confidently choose other manufacturers at a far lower price, meet the power production targets, and satisfy all the necessary key differentiators we automatically expect from a high performance quality made module.
Obviously, solar module manufacturers are keenly aware of the danger of working in a commodity driven market . This is in our favor because we are getting very high quality technology with excellent pricing that continues to fall. What we don’t want to see are the Sanyo’s and SolarWorld’s driven out of the solar market because of price. Module manufacturers like these two have contributed significantly towards solar innovation and set the original high quality standards for others to strive to match. The question is: when do we use their product if we can deliver an equal outcome at a much more competitive price?