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Green Flop: 80% Of Europe’s Solar Panels Underperforming

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Todd Woody, The New York Times

The $77 billion solar industry is facing a quality crisis just as solar panels are on the verge of widespread adoption. A review of 30,000 installations in Europe by the German solar monitoring firm Meteocontrol found 80 percent were underperforming. 

The solar panels covering a vast warehouse roof in the sun-soaked Inland Empire region east of Los Angeles were only two years into their expected 25-year life span when they began to fail.Coatings that protect the panels disintegrated while other defects caused two fires that took the system offline for two years, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenues.

It was not an isolated incident. Worldwide, testing labs, developers, financiers and insurers are reporting similar problems and say the $77 billion solar industry is facing a quality crisis just as solar panels are on the verge of widespread adoption.No one is sure how pervasive the problem is.

There are no industrywide figures about defective solar panels. And when defects are discovered, confidentiality agreements often keep the manufacturer’s identity secret, making accountability in the industry all the more difficult.But at stake are billions of dollars that have financed solar installations, from desert power plants to suburban rooftops, on the premise that solar panels will more than pay for themselves over a quarter century. […]

All solar panels degrade and gradually generate less electricity over time. But a review of 30,000 installations in Europe by the German solar monitoring firm Meteocontrol found 80 percent were underperforming. Testing of six manufacturers’ solar panels at two Spanish power plants by Enertis Solar in 2010 found defect rates as high as 34.5 percent. […]

First Solar, one of the United States’ biggest manufacturers, has set aside $271.2 million to cover the costs of replacing defective modules it made in 2008 and 2009.

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