As consumers have purchased solar energy (photovoltaic systems) in greater numbers this past year, those buying systems in the new year need to acquaint themselves with the nuances of the industry. Pacific Islands Construction believes that what has become apparent is consumers need to be more vigilant in what they buy and who they buy from because of the many changes that have occurred or will occur.
The following will give you information you can use to qualify your purchase:
China’s production capacity doubled in recent years and since subsidies in many markets worldwide disappeared, spot price for solar modules dropped by more than 40 percent and all profitability went with it. Attention to the claim that these government subsidized factories were unfairly dumping their products on the world market has galvanized the U.S. industry to ask the government to investigate the practice and place sanctions on the Chinese-made products. It appears that the practice has been confirmed since only 10 percent of the product cost is in labor which gives a cost advantage. Consumers have reaped the benefits, but many solar manufacturers have cut on the quality of the components they are using. The glass cover is more reflective, the metal frames use lower quality metal or are thinner, and the individual cells are lower in quality as bought on the market from suppliers. It is predicted that only a few manufacturers will be in the business in the coming years, and it is important to know if the product you are considering is manufactured by someone who will have a sustainable business in the future.
Since most solar modules are installed on the roof, issues have surfaced regarding their placement and construction or attachment. The Building Department warns not to cover the plumbing vents with solar modules. Building inspectors have noted suspect practices in how the racking systems that hold the modules in place are attached. The roof penetrations for the racking systems should be connected to a structural element not just the roof deck. The waterproofing issue requires that proper roof flashings be used.
Solar module warranties are provided in two forms, one for the power efficiency and the other for panel construction. Generally, consumers are told that the solar modules come with a 25-year warranty. This period of time is the power efficiency warranty and not the module construction warranty. The warranty that deals with the construction of the module is usually not mentioned and is only from five to 10 years. Furthermore, warranties are written to protect the manufacturers, not the consumer. Consumers should read the document closely to see which rights have been taken away from them and what is actually being protected. And improperly installed flashing details void most warranties.
Solar modules do not perform as efficiently when panel temperatures increase. They are constructed to attract light to the modules, but in doing so heat in the panels is also produced. For every degree in Celsius that modules get hotter than 77 degrees Fahrenheit, the efficiency decreases by .5 percent. They should be up and off the roof to get the most ventilation and increase the power produced. Other factors are dirt, compromised wiring, inverters improperly matched to modules and additional heat from the roof surface.
Most systems are sold as if they will work forever, but they need to be inspected every year, the module cleaned, the roof penetration examined, the wiring/ connectors checked and the inverters inspected/cleaned.