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
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,