Banner Image

Why “Move Fast, Break Things” Doesn’t Work in Solar …

Ralph Elias

Ralf Elias

Chief Product Officer & Executive Vice President

We all know the famous Mark Zuckerberg quote “Move fast and break things.” It inspired a new generation of entrepreneurs because he tapped into something powerful, something about trying new things and not being scared to fail. It clearly worked for Meta, a company now valued at hundreds of billions of dollars. But when it comes to solar panels, this is bad advice. And one I fear has become too prevalent in the industry.

In today’s solar industry, global demand is increasing rapidly, with energy analysts Wood Mackenzie, predicting the US will see an increase of 52% yearly growth in solar installations (1).

To meet the growing demand for solar, a combination of experienced and newer players are expanding or entering the manufacturing market.  For example, new entrants in the past few months have included an owner of a gold jewelry store chain (2), and a producer of dairy products (3). As some new manufacturers in the US market who are new to manufacturing have noted, cell manufacturing is a complicated business. Some may lack the experience in engineering that established brands with proven track records possess.  At the same time, it is vital that the solar industry, to fully realize the opportunity, must keep confidence of consumers. And quality is crucial.

To the end-consumer, a solar panel is a one-time purchase that saves them money, gives them more control over their energy future, and protects the environment to boot. Unlike an app that experiences glitches, requires regular updates and patches, they expect a solar panel to work flawlessly for decades to come and take up very little of their precious mind space.

As manufacturers rapidly scale operations, product ingredient choices are not always made with a full assessment of their longer-term implications—scrutiny that can only be realized through in-depth laboratory analysis and field testing—in other words, time! In a recent survey of modules in the field, Clean Energy Associates found that many module buyers are procuring systems from newer, more inexperienced suppliers, leading to quality issues  – 83% of panels observed across 150 project sites in 16 countries were found to contain cell cracks (4)! Cell cracks are a significant reliability concern as they can create dead zones that limit energy production, as well as become the source of damaging hotspots that precipitate panel failure, and in extreme cases, represent a safety risk.

Against these headwinds, a lot of pressure falls on end consumers to buy the right panel—and shoulder all the risks associated with rapid industry growth. I think the true test of quality is a manufacturer’s warranty backed by actual field data. After all, any fault within the warranty on a solar panel is a broken promise between the manufacturer and the buyer. With the solar industry growing to meet demand, warranties are manufacturers’ opportunity to show customers they know what they’re doing.

At Maxeon, we offer the industry’s longest combined power, product and service warranty, coming in at 40 years. The reason behind this is the fact that we’ve been in the game for nearly 40 years as well, and in that time we’ve learned that there’s value in making sure you get things right. All of the decisions we make are backed by volumes of test data and large-scale fleet studies to validate long-term performance and reliability.

Any manufacturer can arbitrarily write their desired warranty terms into policy, but at Maxeon we extensively test and qualify our products to ensure they truly meet their warranty terms. All panels experience natural performance degradation due to their exposure to the environment, but Maxeon has had panels monitored at the USA’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) for over fifteen years. And in this time, they’ve shown nearly zero degradation.

We use the latest tools in very long-duration testing to ensure that we understand the long-term impacts of environmental stresses on panels. Combined with our experience in manufacturing, which has allowed us to engineer out certain modes of degradation associated with humidity and hot-spotting that plague other panels, we’ve adopted a mindset where above all we design solar panels for life.

To unlock the value of solar PV, we need to get modules in the field and on roofs as quickly as possible. I might envy Zuckerberg’s tenacity, but for solar customers, I know that quality and reliability are what is really important. New solar manufacturers should realise that this will be fundamental to ensure that solar achieves its potential of giving people access to sustainable and affordable energy.