Friday, March 11, 2011

Failure of Solar Inverters

The big picture

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) claims that the lifecycle O&M cost due to poor inverter reliability dwarfs that of PV modules (50% vs. 5%, Fig. 3). That means only $2-3/kW-year is spent on module O&M. EPRI further notes that module failure is responsible for less than 1% of energy losses, as shown in Fig. 4. However, there are three items to note about this data: 1) it comprises almost all flat-plate, c-Si modules, 2) SunPower is an established company and an industry leader in quality, and 3) SunEdison is a well established developer in the PV industry. Unfortunately, the limited data for thin-films is not as rosy. A Conergy developer noted that, "First Solar accounts for 2% breakage, though [Conergy is] seeing far less than 1% on most of [their] projects over the first year [9]." If the best-in-class thin-film manufacturer sees failure rates around 1-2%, failure rates could exceed 2% for new market entrants. As the industry expands and new technologies are introduced, failure rates could climb even higher.
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