What does Q Cells insolvency tell us about the market for quality PV?

04 Apr, 2012

I had a call last week from one of the team at Q Cells Australia; not about the insolvency issues but about my earlier post on PV quality and manufacturing.

Somehow, I have to get a trip to Germany because what I learned in that discussion is Q Cells for one ( haven’t heard from the rest of you yet??) have a deep understanding of quality processes in manufacturing. It is omni-present in their marketing and sales pitch and they knew exactly what I was talking about; including the required investments to make it happen.

I got an open invitation to see it first hand one day which I’ll be delighted to do and Im sure there are other manufacturers who have the balance right too.

Although their current issues are not driven by the added costs of a “pure quality” play, it does prompt me ask the question – is the market ready enough to pay for real quality?

Having struggled for twenty years to justify the price of PV I understand that price is fundamental. However, it seems that the race to affordability has been overshadowed by either the race to mediocrity or the race to un-profitability. Certainly not in all cases by any means, but we are in a peculiar stage of the markets evolution where consumers and installers struggle to recognise sufficiently, the value of true quality.

Sure the, market has segments and using automobiles as an example, a large part of the market is dominated by low cost vehicles not premium brands – like PV. But somehow the benchmark or definitions of meaningful, minimal quality standards have been lost at consumer level and perhaps more importantly at the installer level.

In a recent piece of research I did on the various Tier 1,2 and 3 manufacturers presence in Australia, this became all too relevant. Guess which Tier of manufacturers dominates the Australian market? Not Tier 1, that’s for sure, and the stats tell us that no other market in the world has favoured Tier 2 and 3 product like we have .

Australia has a forthcoming, very large price to pay for using a whole lotta low end PV I suspect.



About the author

Nigel Morris
Nigel Morris

Nigel is the Director of SolarBusinessServices. After almost 20 years working for other companies SbS Director Nigel Morris, established the company in 2009 with a view to providing other organisations with the benefits of his wide experience in the renewable energy industry.

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  1. April 05, 2012

    Hi Nigel,

    Do you remember a Swiss guy Markus Real? He created Alpha Real AG back in the early 1990’s and pioneered a PV solar roof tile, a ‘Megalino’ micro solar inverter for ‘ac solar strings’ if you like. He was ahead of his time, I took up his solar tile here in Australia as you know well, having helped me via BP Solar and Richard Collins, Tony Stocken, Daniel Brunelli-Brondex et al. to pioneer roof integrated PV in our market.

    The last time I met Markus Real was in Paris in 2004 at the EU PVSEC conference. Origin Energy were also there exibiting a sample of the Sliver Cell laminate.

    Markus was attending to present the PV GAP to the conference.

    PV What? PV GAP !!!
    see http://www.pvgap.org

    Maybe a daggy name that didnt catch on, but the intentions were very much in line with your concerns today, and hoping to avoid such outcomes.

    PV GAP was seen by some in industry as an attempt to subvert the testing regimes of TUV, UL, and other ‘Standards’ laboratories in regional juristictions that also served well as a barrier to outside manufacturers, unless they could afford the toll to pay for the test approvals to get their product into a market where these approval stamps where mandated under some government PV support programs.

    PV GAP saw this also as a barrier to PV development where manufacturers had to get several Approval stamps, often paying for repeat of the same tests, to have a ‘world-wide’ sellable product. Bigger players could and did pay the toll, and they are not the manufacturers that concern you I think.

    Had PV GAP been more successful, there may have been one test of quality acceptable to earn the PV GAP label, and so lower the barrer to entry, and hence allow for more competition. It was mostly aimed I understood at growing PV uptake in underdeveloped economies, making a Certification Standard that funding entities like the World Bank and other development aide organisations could accept to approve funding of projects using these Certified products.

    Perhaps what was overlooked was a Test regime for business owners and operators, to weed out shonks who would use and sell anything that looked like a PV component so long as it held together long enough to get paid for it.

    Did Big PV kill off PV GAP I wonder, because they would not support a barrier reducer like that? Maybe if there was a globally accepted Quality mark that was based on a more affordable test Certification, and which could be verified, maintained and trusted, we may have been better off for that in the way you are now questioning. Perhaps we may now be in the doo doo, for lack of? Perhaps Big PV was too protective, too critical of idealistic, world democracy type efforts like PV GAP.

    However, it’s very difficult to get an international Standard when each country or ecnomic region wants to protect its own, and so who will fund the proper establishment and maintenance of a PV GAP type standard? Probably the answer was, noone would or did.

    Peter Erling
    PV Solar Energy Pty Ltd creator of the Australian PV Solar Tile TM

    PV GAP

    “The Global Approval Program for Photovoltaics (PV GAP), a not-for-profit international organization, is dedicated to the sustained growth of global photovoltaics (PV) markets to meet energy needs world-wide in an environmentally sound manner. Our mission is to promote and encourage the use of internationally accepted standards, quality management processes and organizational training in the design, fabrication, installation, sales and services of PV systems. To this end, we partner with PV and related industries, international organizations, testing laboratories, government agencies, financing institutions, non-governmental organizations, and private foundations, in developing and developed countries.”

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