Poor quality planning: Shifting the blame, passing the buck


When Christopher Barton * heard the concerns of his client, he could hardly believe it. In just a few months he and his company had installed many tens of megawatts of modules on behalf of an EPC. He says that he is both experienced and knows the correct and proper way to install solar modules. (* name changed)

The absurdity of the concern was reflected in the subsequent discussion. The EPC had not tested a single module prior to installation. Now the EPC is telling the installer that spot checks using electroluminescence have shown that more than 40% of the modules are damaged. This figure includes all visible damage without regard to the number and location of cracks. There is also reduced yield, but the extent of it is not yet known yet. “It is not clear where in the value chain this happened,” says Barton. It may be that the modules were manufactured with defects; they may have been damaged in transport, and it is also possible that they developed microcracks during installation or afterwards, during operation.

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From a legal standpoint, he believes that the case is clear. If it cannot be proven who is responsible for the damage, the EPC is liable to the investor. The multi-million dollar lawsuit is still in progress, and the outcome is uncertain. Because it is an ongoing case, pv magazine cannot yet contact the EPC to get its side of the story.

Topics to be discussed

This case makes a few things clear and, at the same time, illustrates themes that will be discussed at the pv magazine Quality Roundtable at SPI.

  • If an EPC does not perform receiving inspections, it risks not being able to demonstrate responsibilities. According to Barton, this is currently more the rule than the exception. Why is this happening?
  • Even if an EPC performs receiving inspections, Barton says that liability depends on how the EPC purchased the modules and where the transfer of risk occurs, at the factory or at the construction site.
  • Established module manufacturers generally test modules before they are packed to demonstrate quality. However, it is not clear that that is sufficient for modules purchased at the production facility. After all, damage can also occur during packaging. Who is liable in this case?
  • When damage is found later, who’s to say that the cause of the damage didn’t occur at an early stage? How is it possible to determine whether damage is a delayed consequence of a production or material fault, and when that happens, who is liable?
  • On the technical level, we have to ask what kinds of damage revealed by electroluminescence images are critical and which can be considered acceptable for the investor. One might take the position that no modules should be allowed to have any kind of visible damage. But that is not necessarily the most economical solution.
  • On the structural level, we have to ask how to reduce the cost pressures on the parties involved, leading them to skip receiving inspections. This is closely tied to the time pressure that projects are subject to. How can the industry ensure that everyone involved can live with the solution?

How would you answer these questions? Please share your thoughts with pv magazine at roundtable@pv-magazine.com



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