09 November 2011
Backsheets play a vital role in the performance and lifetime of solar installations by protecting and insulating wiring, helping maintain an optimal cell temperature, acting as a vapor barrier and more. Choosing a backsheet supplier that can ensure quality and product consistency is imperative. Naturally, pricing and reputation for quality are key factors. However, before selecting or changing a backsheet supplier, there are several other important factors to consider before entering into a partnership. Below are seven questions that may simplify the process of choosing a backsheet supplier for today's PV modules.
1. Are the key testing protocols and certifications in place to ensure adherence to global quality standards?
Modules can be delivered or installed anywhere across the globe. This requires establishing strict testing protocols and adherence to a wide range of certification standards by the supplier. This is a key factor in an industry where non-compliance claims can negatively affect profitability and a solar panel manufacturer's reputation. It's important that a backsheet supplier has earned requisite certifications such as ISO 9001:2008 and NEN-EN-ISO 9001:2008; or have internal testing protocols in place to support key quality standards such as UL, IEC and TUV. The ability to comply with various global standards enables module manufacturers to participate in government supported initiatives and broaden its increase in revenue streams.
2. Does the backsheet supplier have the capacity to keep up with growth and meet immediate and future demands?
A backsheet producer should be able to consistently deliver high-quality backsheets in large quantities within extremely tight timeframes. The prospective supplier should have scalable manufacturing capacity, be strategically-located with globally-based manufacturing, warehousing and distribution capabilities to deliver the product when and where it's needed.
3. Will the backsheet supplier cover transition costs?
The decision to qualify a new backsheet supplier isn't something to take lightly; there is a high cost affiliated with switching a provider. Consider if the prospective supplier will subsidize the cost of obtaining the proper certifications for the new bill of materials. Preferred suppliers typically help defray the substantial transition costs by offering competitive and consistent pricing and by contributing to the cost of module certification.
4. Can the supplier provide solar module assembly products other than backsheets?
Working with a partner that can provide ancillary components for solar module assembly could also save you time and money. Keep in mind that all components need to be compatible in a solar module. One way to ensure compatibility and leverage buying power is to align with a dedicated, single-source supplier. The supplier should provide "one-stop shopping" by offering a wide array of products for solar module assembly. Since solar panels also require associated bonding, mounting and labeling components, it is advantageous to streamline ordering and gain substantial pricing advantages by finding a supplier that can offer all of these capabilities.
5. Does the supplier offer extensive technical support?
It is important that a backsheet supplier readily allow access to technical support that advance efficiency, quality assurance efforts and profitability. Suppliers who have the ability to develop, test and deliver custom products can offer distinct advantages. However, it's critical that their in-house field representatives can offer the know-how to optimize backsheet performance for specific processes and applications and for custom products.
6. How long has the supplier been serving the photovoltaic industry?
In an emerging market, such as the photovoltaic industry it's important to ask how long a supplier has been in the business and what qualifies the company to produce backsheets. Most importantly, it's critical to understand how they would address inherent product performance challenges, such as delamination issues, moisture resistance, weatherability, electrical insulative properties, and bonding to encapsulants. Investigate whether the supplier has a history developing backsheets or related products—and thatthe other product lines are stable. Many startups are looking to break into this growing industry; however an inexperienced supplier could negatively impact your end-product and ultimately your bottom line.
7. Can the supplier provide a competitive advantage?
Product innovation is a key differentiator for both established solar module manufacturer and startups approaching this crowded market. A key characteristic for the backsheet supplier should be the ability to formulate unique product solutions that clearly distinguish solar panel offerings versus their competitors. In a successful relationship a supplier will make a serious commitment to R&D and constantly look ahead to develop next-generation solutions and push the envelope to offer an ongoing advantage.
Choosing the right supplier and backsheet product can affect production and performance objectives and have long-term implications for the bottom line and customer satisfaction. By considering these seven questions, photovoltaic module manufacturers can ensure they are making an informed, educated decision and are selecting the right partner.
By Michelle Ostiguy, Market Development Specialist, FLEXcon.
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