One part of the solar panel called the buss bar, a piece of mechanical tape that conducts electricity, did not have the proper adhesion properties which caused it to crack out in the field, causing the panels to catch fire.
“That went on for three years,” another source familiar with the buss bars said. “That should have been everybody, hands on deck, fix this problem, but it wasn’t handled that way.”
A video obtained by The DC News Foundation shows a solar panel catching fire, which multiple sources identified as being one of Abound’s panels. In fact, the video was taken by one of Abound’s customers.
“Through the second half of 2010 what we realized was ‘oh shit, we have two problems’” that same source said. “What we were realizing is that the buss bar was failing and we were getting major underperformance in the field.”
The burning buss bar problem was apparently fixed in later models, but underperformance in the field still persisted as it did with earlier models.
Once panels were put in the field, they began to seriously underperform because the panels were “juiced” with copper. Copper makes the panels test better at the end of the production line, but perform worse in the fields.
“At room temperature, in a non-interrupted environment, the module ran at 80 watts,” said one source, referring to fact that the panels tested well.
“From the day we closed down we still didn’t know how to make a good module. But the one thing they did know was the more copper you put in it, the better it performed in the factory and the worse it performed out in the field,” another source added.
Copper moves when it’s heated and causes damage to the panel and underperformance. One source noted that copper had to be put into the solar modules, according to a source, but too much copper would hurt the panels performance.
One source noted that DOE had contractors monitoring production in Abounds facilities, and another source said DOE never went beyond that to do field testing, where all the problems were occurring, so it’s unclear to what extent they knew about this problem.
However, this behavior didn’t change even after the loan guarantee had been closed. The DOE revenue metrics and production goals were still in place and Abound kept pushing bad product out the door.
The company couldn’t afford to replace the panels, according to one source, because they needed to push all their panels out the door to meet revenue requirements.