The Warranty Window Countdown

The countdown to the end of product warranty milestone is well and truly on. In most cases solar modules have two types of warranty. Firstly, they have a performance warranty. This is to do with the power generation of the module and follows a degradation curve or line on a graph. Typically guaranteeing a minimum of 90% production at the 10-year stage and then a minimum of 80% production at the 25-year stage as an example. Often 2DegreesKelvin are asked to carry out flash tests on operational modules to see where they are on this degradation curve and whether the asset owner has a performance warranty claim or not.

The second warranty is the equipment or product warranty. In most cases this is 10 or 12 years and relates to the module itself and is limited in most cases to ‘material or process defects’. This is somewhat difficult to define without looking at specific warranty details for different manufacturers, and usually is not to do with the power producing element.

This is a very important topic in the utility scale solar industry at present as the mean age of modules in operation is now 7-10 years old. So now is the time that asset owners need to be making sure that these warranties are explored and to ensure that the modules they have on their solar farms are inspected thoroughly to verify if any claim is possible or not.

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Areas where 2DegreesKelvin are seeing manufacturers honouring limited product warranties include PID, backsheet deterioration and delamination. In each case quantitative and qualitative investigations are required including on-site and lab testing to provide evidence for such a claim. The outcome of these claims has been varied depending on the scale and impact of the issue. In some cases, the manufacturers have provided replacement modules meaning a module exchange program would be required. The main issue with this outcome is that in most cases the power class of module that you are exchanging is no longer manufactured, so the site needs to be reconfigured and there are potential complications in planning as well to consider. We are seeing quite a bit of this now in the UK, where an agreed quantity of defect modules are removed, and are backfilled with unaffected modules on the same site (usually from one MPPT or inverter areas. A small number of higher watt modules are then installed with string lengths reconfigured. This is OK for the time being, but with degenerative conditions such as PID, Backsheet deterioration and delamination, there will more than likely be multiple rounds like this until the whole sites modules is replaced at some point in the future.

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The other outcomes we have seen is that the manufacture provides compensation to the asset owner to the value of the modules purchased at the time of order. Its then up to the asset owner to decide what to do next. This is probably the least common outcome out of these three.

And finally, we have seen that in cases such as PID (Potential Induced Degradation), that retrofittable healing technology is paid for by the manufacturer, to the reverse the degradation effects, and this is deemed a suitable and sufficient solution for the asset owner. This certainly will save a huge amount of time, effort and expense compared to a full exchange. There are also backseat repair or sealing approaches now being deployed, but in our view this is a short term shoring strategy.

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Although there are several positive outcomes from an asset owner’s perspective, this doesn’t take into consideration the dozens of failed warranty claim attempts which take place. Based on the industry knowledge and feedback from some of our technical partners, we estimate that only 1 in 10 claims are successful. The majority of these are down to the watertight nature of the module manufacturers warranties themselves, meaning you really need to know what you are doing to provide sufficient evidence to mount a genuine claim. The others are down to the fact that asset owners, or their technical advisors building the claim, have little practical experience or knowledge of these issues in the field. We are set for a very busy next few years on this topic as the finger of blame continues to move around the room until someone pays the bill.

If you need some advice on any module or system degrading issues, or if you wish to explore if you have a warranty case or not, please get in touch with 2DegreesKelvin.