Dutch warn of Scheuten PV fire risk

The Dutch government has issued a fire warning related to some 650,000 PV modules supplied by Scheuten Solar, which went bankrupt last year, in an incident that could further marginalise PV manufacturers with troubled balance sheets.

Yesterday the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority said that modules supplied by Scheuten between August 2009 and February 2012 – under the brand name “Multisol” – have been confirmed as potential fire hazards.

At least 15 blazes have been confirmed, although none in the Netherlands. France has reportedly had the most problems with such fires – caused by poor electricity connections with the junction box behind the module – given the emphasis the country has placed on building-integrated PV (BIPV) in past incentive schemes.

But fears have spread quickly of potential fires in the Netherlands, also a BIPV leader. Some 15,000 of the modules in question were installed in the Netherlands, the government says, while others went out across Europe, the US and Australia.

The Scheuten issue is not new. Last year insurers representing the insolvent company hired the repair specialist Suncycle to identify and fix faulty junction boxes.

However, Suncycle was apparently only paid to carry out repairs on “high-risk” systems, including BIPV systems and those on public buildings. That category covers only 10% of the faulty modules put in place.

Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant reports that Scheuten may have known about the fire risk as far back as 2010, but only began looking into the matter after fires began occurring in France last year.

Founded in 2000, Scheuten Solar Systems B.V. was one of the last vestiges of the Netherlands’ leading technology position within the PV sector in the 1990s, before weak political support effectively ceded control of the industry to neighbouring Germany.

Scheuten, which maintained a large thin-film module factory in Germany, filed for bankruptcy last year. Chinese PV cell maker Aikosolar acquired “essential components” from the company, but did not assume legal liability for past modules.

The issue of liability over the faulty Scheuten modules has itself combusted into a conflagration. The Dutch government took out three advertisements in major newspapers to spread awareness of the issue.

But many installers, fearing they will be held liable, may be afraid to come forward. The Dutch government specifically called out Multisol modules linked to “Solexus” junction boxes, supplied by Dutch firm Alrack.

But Alrack quickly posted a statement saying that the government’s warning is misleading, as it believes the same problem “still arises” even if other junction boxes are used. 

The problem, in Alrack’s estimation, is a design error directly attributed to Scheuten Solar. Despite having a timeline on its website linking it back to 2000 and the establishment of Scheuten Solar Systems B.V., the new company, Scheuten Solar Solutions B.V., says it has “no relationship” with its former incarnation.

Concerns about who will assume liability for PV components supplied by bankrupt manufacturers has fed the industry's consolidation process over the past few years, by making it easier for companies backed by state-owned banks or deep-pocketed investors to take market share from smaller, independent players.