Quality and Reputation Trump CostsWed, 02/22/2017 - 15:15
Power auctions across the world in the past year have left little doubt which way prices are heading. The record lows at auctions in Mexico, Peru and Saudi Arabia surprised the global industry as the development of higher-efficiency PV panels and improvements in BoP components have helped to bring costs down. But while price is one thing, quality is another.
“We will never give up quality for the price,” says Lou Marrero, Director Latin America & Caribbean of Trina Solar. “It has taken us 20 years to build our reputation and we are not willing to put it at risk just for the sake of reducing costs.” Mexico’s first long-term power auction produced a record price per megawatt-hour of solar energy with average prices of US$45.15/MWh. The country beat its own record later by reaching 30 percent lower prices in the second auction, with energy costs of US$33.47/MWh on average. The fact that the costs related to solar PV modules have fallen by around 80 percent from 2009 to 2015, according to IRENA, has helped to make solar energy more economically attractive. But it has also put pressure on manufacturers to continue optimizing production systems and to keep costs down.
Trina Solar is a Chinese manufacturer of crystalline PV modules founded in 1997 and listed on the NYSE since 2006. It supplied a total volume of 3.66GW PV modules in 2014, placing it as a leading supplier in the global solar market. Quality control is a core part of the company’s strategy, with 30 internal quality tests currently running, according to its website. “Our great attention to detail and vertically integrated structure have been our secret to success because that enables us to control every aspect of our processes,” Marrero says. “This strategy has allowed Trina Solar to provide an efficient, high-quality and costcompetitive product that works perfectly under a wide range of conditions,” Marrero says. Innovation is one of the strongest points that differentiate the company from other Tier 1 manufacturers, complemented by the strict control Trina Solar exercises over its manufacturing chain, from the silicon to the assembly of the key components. “By ensuring the quality of all critical materials needed for a solar panel, we improve the efficiency of the product at a component level. In addition, we work continuously on optimizing our manufacturing processes, which is another factor impacting our products’ quality and costs.”
Trina Solar’s flagship product is its double-glass module, an innovative system developed at the company’s research center. Trina Solar’s R&D team spent years investigating before finding an adequate solution to diminish the negative impact that UV degradation, high temperatures and moisture have on a PV panel’s performance. “Their idea was to replace the back sheet used in regular solar panels with an extra layer of glass. The final design consists of a 60-cell module that yields a higher power output rate, in excess of 260W, with above 16 percent efficiency. The product’s characteristics make it particularly attractive for hot and humid regions, which are common in Mexico,” Marrero says.
Trina Solar also has developed a smart system for its PV panels that positively impacts a project’s costs. “The system, called Trina Smart, improves a plant’s power output and reduces the cost of the balance of the system, reducing installation and O&M costs. It allows project operators to monitor the performance of the individual panels and the solar park as a whole,” he says.
The company complements its technical capabilities with strategic partnerships. “Part of our strategy consists of working with local talent, particularly those who have the ability to offer aftersales services according to our clients’ regional needs,” Marrero says. “We also work to establish strong and long-term relationships with our suppliers, such as inverter or rack providers, which helps us establish a symbiotic bond that improves our product’s performance by linking it to the appropriate components.”
Trina Solar sees itself as a bankable business with a proven track record, which plays in its favor. “We are certain that Trina Solar’s name will be in the conversation repeatedly, particularly because we lower a project’s risks and increase its bankability,” Marrero says.