High Yield Strategy

Kyocera Solar

When we last spoke to Kyocera Solar nearly two years ago, National Operations Manager George Phani expressed concern that the market for solar PV energy was clouded by doubt and insufficient consumer education. So when we caught up with George again recently, we asked him whether things had changed.

Yes and no, was effectively the answer. To some extent, buyers – both residential and corporate – have benefited from increased discussion about quality, reliability, performance, and installation of solar systems. But there is still a lot of uncertainty about the financial aspects of ‘going solar’. There is still no effective test or standard for the strength or performance of panels in Australia, and too many installers are simply interested in nailing a system to a roof and getting out to the next job, instead of ensuring a system’s reliability and output over a couple of decades or so.

That Kyocera should care about long-term performance is self-evident. This is part of a global group turning over some $13.6 billion (2013 financial year), which has been in business for more than 50 years and is a world leader in serious, large or small installations of solar energy provision. Kyocera chooses equipment that will last, partly because it wants its clients to be happy but also partly because a high failure rate, with subsequent replacement, would hurt its bottom line. It is in Kyocera’s own interest, as well as that of the customer, to choose the right materials for the job, says George.

In the interests of wringing more performance from a typical rooftop installation, many providers are increasing the size of the panels they install – increasing the number of photovoltaic cells and thus the area of each panel. “It is fine to make a jump in performance, but you may need to reinforce the panel because it may be a thinner layer of silicon or some other factor,” George explains. “So we reinforce our panels with additional integrated frame support.” Kyocera has its 250 watt and 325 watt panels with additional support bars running behind the panels and integrated with a strengthened frame, all of which “really secures the fragile silicon parts themselves from fracturing over time while they are outside and exposed to the elements.”

Kyocera announced in March that its entire product line of solar modules has passed the Salt Mist Corrosion Test administered by TÜV Rheinland in the US. A company statement says: “Successfully passing this independent, third-party test indicates that Kyocera’s solar modules are ideally suited for long-term deployment in marine and coastal areas. Salt mist is a corrosive agent that can reduce the output of solar modules that are not proven salt-mist resistant. Salt-laden humidity and rain conditions can adversely affect key module components, including the frames, junction boxes and glass surfaces, thus potentially reducing a module’s performance and lifespan.”

More manufacturers are going bigger and bigger in terms of panel size, says George, “partly because the customer thinks bigger is better – which is not necessarily true,” – and partly because there may be time savings in handling fewer, larger panels during the installation. But, he says, “as you get larger, you need to consider the stress on the panel – vibration when loading, for example, because the cells are quite sensitive.” The bigger the panel, the more support it needs to keep it rigid; George’s point is that not many suppliers take account of this simple fact.

The solar industry has had to live for many years with the uncertainty of on-off-on-off financial programmes – such as the Renewable Energy Target (RET) and rebates. This, says George, has worsened the confusion in the marketplace in Australia. “This is partly caused by the difficulty of not knowing if there will be an incentive programme; it is hard to make a long-term investment decision if you don’t know whether there will be an RET. These incentive programmes drive investment decisions, so uncertainty around a programme makes it very difficult not only for the end user but the suppliers and the manufacturers.” That is why Kyocera likes the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) concept that has spread from the US (please see sidebar for further details).

One aspect of the industry has remained unchanged since our last chat: the lack of good testing procedures for solar equipment. The standard test of output is to flash an artificial light source onto a panel and read the result. George says this is no real gauge of a panel’s potential however. “It tells you nothing about how much power it will generate over a day or the life of the item.” It’s a concern of Kyocera’s that the industry “needs to get away from the word efficiency and look for yield, to show how much yield a system can generate over a system’s life.” Kyocera is working on refining current technology but keeps a watching brief on the many new ideas coming through; maybe some of them will one day result in high-yield solar arrays, but for now, says George, it’s best to stick with what is tried and trusted – by one of the biggest players in the game.

For more information about Kyocera Solar, please visit http://www.kyocerasolar.com.

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January 18, 2019, 3:31 AM AEDT