Episode #018 - Jörg Althaus
Episode #018 with Torsten Brammer & Jörg Althaus:
In this episode, Torsten Brammer talks to a pioneer in the field of quality insurance for PV power plants. Jörg Althaus is the Director of Engineering Services, QA, and ESG at Clean Energy Associates. CEA provides engineering and technical support services for #PV and battery storage. Before his current position, Jörg held various positions at TÜV Rheinland, a leading Testing, Inspection, Certification body in the solar industry.
You should listen to this podcast episode if you...
👉 ... want to gain insights about quality insurance in the fab and on the field
👉 ... want to know how reliable reliability tests really are
👉 ... are curious about the predictability of failure
👉 ... are wondering if fire guards would extinguish the fire in your house even if it has a rooftop installation 🚒 🔥
Jörg is a business professional with >20 years of high-level experience I the solar industry. He is highly focused on quality, reliability and technical risk mitigation for photovoltaic assets. Before joining CEA Mr. Althaus held various positions at TÜV Rheinland, a leading Testing, Inspection, Certification body in the solar industry. His roles included profit & loss responsibility for the PV and energy storage teams in Germany and the India, Middle East, Africa region as well as business development and key account responsibilities.
Between 2019 and 2021 he was responsible for the strategy development and achievement for TÜV Rheinlands global PV Power Plant business. As a technical expert, he was project leader on various standards within the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), Technical Committee 82 focusing on PV module test standards. He also was a technical auditor for the CB scheme within IECEE auditing multiple PV laboratories around the world.
Jörg is active member in the SolarPower Europe industry association and contributed in various work streams. Jörg holds a decree in electrical engineering and resides in Cologne, Germany.
Connect with Jörg Althaus on LinkedIn.
(27:30-29:03) With every innovative technology there is a potential for a new risk. #Shingled Modules cut solar cells into strips and overlap them inside the framed module. What does Jörg Althaus, Director Engineering Services, QA and ESG at CEA, say about this relatively new solar panel manufacturing process, from a quality insurance perspective?
(33:22-34:58) Will there be a time when we can predict failure? 🔮This question is almost philosophical. But in this episode, it refers to Digital Twins and Simulation for #PV components. Listen to the thoughts of Jörg Althaus, Director Engineering Services, QA and ESG at CEA, and get to know how we can learn from the oil and gas industry where it is common practice to have assets digitalized.
(42:00-43:46) Crucial question: Is a rooftop installation dangerous for #firemen? 🔥🚒Simple answer by our quality insurance expert Jörg Althaus, Director Engineering Services, QA and ESG at CEA. Check it out!
[00:00:17.610] - Torsten
So hello, everybody, and welcome to a new episode of The Solar Journey. My guest today is Jörge idhouse. Welcome to the show, Jörg.
[00:00:28.820] - Jörg
Thank you, Torsten, for the invitation.
[00:00:31.070] - Torsten
Yeah, sure. So Jörg is the director of engineering services, quality, and ESG at Clean Energy Associates. CEA, in brief, was founded in 2008 and is based in Denver, Colorado, USA, and Shanghai, China. And also now, of course, since York is in Cologne, I guess also in Germany. It's a global company operating worldwide, and CEA covers various services like quality assurance for solar PV and battery storage, supply chain management, and engineering services. And roughly 175 people work at CEA outside himself. He lives in Cologne, as I just mentioned, in Germany, where I, by the way, also spent ten years, ten great years of my life while I was a Solar PhD student and researcher at the Fortune Central Munich, which is 45 minutes drive from Cologne. So he joined CEA only four months ago, but still, he can be regarded as a veteran and with ten years in the business, also a pioneer in the field of quality assurance for PV power plants. And why? Because before he joined CEA, he spent 22 years with TIFF Rhineland. UV Rhineland, surely one of the most renowned global institutions when it comes down to any sort of certification, quality control, and also particularly TIFF Rhineland itself, can be regarded as one of the pioneers of quality control in the solar PV sector.
[00:02:25.150] - Torsten
So 22 years ago, he started as a master student at TUV, and during this time, he developed a solar cell, measurement wise, and of course, as the founder of myself, as of Wave Labs, that's obviously something that catched my eye. But most importantly, this shows that he really understands the core of solar modules, which is sometimes not the case. So he did finish his thesis. Of course, by now he holds a degree in electrical engineering. And so don't think he has been doing this for 22 years. No, no. He climbed the ranks within TUV seven different job titles. If you check out his LinkedIn profile, where he's actually quite busy. And now he can be seen on almost any stage on every conference and workshop when the topic is related to testing, quality inspection and tracking and social governance. So, Jörg, as I said, I lived in Cologne for ten years myself, and Cologne is infamous for its excessive carnival celebrations. What do you do during Carnival? Do you leave the city or you join the crowd?
[00:03:41.670] - Jörg
Well, look, I came to Cologne when I started the job at TIFF, so at Carnival, and Cologne was new to me in the beginning. I did celebrate it heavily, which was fun when I was young, but nowadays I tend to leave town.
[00:03:54.900] - Torsten
Okay? Understand. So anybody who is in Cologne, early of the year, February, March, check out if the the Carnival season is on and prepared for some heavy partying. Yeah, not only in bars and clubs, but also on the street, which is actually most of the fun. Yeah. So 22 years, I guess it's that you started your first job, I think in solar, in PV. Why did you do that?
[00:04:31.990] - Jörg
Well, I mean, I tend to go back further if you want to hear the whole story. You know, actually when I was in 9th grade, which would have been around 1990, at school, you do the three week placement internship at school. And back then I actually worked for a company called Solar Barkner three weeks, it's a small company. Back then it was like a community. They were doing solar thermal collectors and sent them out as self build kids, really pioneering. And it was also a community that had a bit of a SPECT where almost everybody was getting the same wage. Really pioneering company. Now, of course, it's a big company, they also do foldable planks. But back then it was really my first experience working with renewables and I liked it so much that when I finished my school, the German RV tour, I took back to that company and did a summer job and in assembling some of the stuff that goes on the small residential rooftops. And in fact, at that time my parents decided to put solar on their roof and so I was being paid to build my parents solar rooftop.
[00:05:49.860] - Jörg
So that was how I got all engaged with it. And after school then I had to make the decision what would I want to do with my life? And so I had changed the final years of my school into a specialized high school that was also offering electronics as a major. So I took that, which was pretty hard, tough subject and kind of gave me the conclusion maybe I should not study that, it's too tough. But this is back when there was no universities offering special renewable energy courses. So if I wanted to go on renewables, it was either biology or something like that. So I stuck with power electronics in the end because I didn't find anything better and I liked it. So I did my university in Damnstad county of Hessen and there was another place when I did a company called Bowmin Solar. They were actually doing sterling machines run by solar, very special that are not around anymore. But yeah, when I finished university, like you said, the final piece is what was TIFF. And yes, I continued work on a solar cell measuring device that somebody had started work on but couldn't complete it.
[00:07:16.970] - Jörg
And I built the software, I got all the little sensors to attach and it was cool. It was like a big copper block that was cooled and sucking with vacuum, pump the cellars to the copper block and then doing all the fine tuning of the single lamp. It was metal helite lamp, but it was a challenging project. But apparently company was happy with it. It was a small crew back then atif actually, once I did the count, when you really counted the core team, I think when they onboarded me, I was kind of employee number seven in the team. But that was a time when what was it? 2001, I guess, when also the solar manufacturing was still strong in Europe and it was growing extensively, so I needed somebody to work on the testing, really. So I started as a test engineer in the lab.
[00:08:20.830] - Torsten
How did you get to know the people at UV?
[00:08:24.610] - Jörg
How did that yeah, that's interesting also, because there was in Yulich, there was a summer school for students, the Renewable energy summer school. And I went there from my university in Damcha just during the summer. It was cool. People were camping on the ground, and during the semester break they were doing this renewal course for students, I think it was one week, and they were guest speakers, and one of the guest speakers was Elite Fazzi, which later became my boss. He's from TIFF Ryan, and he was presenting on quality assurance, as you would expect. But this was the first time I ever heard that TIFF or any TIFF, was in solar. Back then, I was not from the industry, so that was interesting to me. And I sent in my application for my final thesis, and it was Tuff and SMA that I had sent my applications in and both wanted me. So it was a tough decision either Castle or Curtain.
[00:09:22.130] - Torsten
Okay, excellent. SMA didn't too bad these back then as well. So must have been, I understand, the hard choice here. Excellent. Interesting. So then, as I mentioned, you had seven different job titles. 22 years at Cologne, at TUV, and you saw the boom in the bus and you made lots of friends, I guess, also inside UV, and then you left the company. Now after 22 years. What was that like?
[00:09:56.670] - Jörg
That was really tough. I mean, it took me about twelve months, I think, to actually make the decision. It was not so much that I was wanting to leave TIFF or something, it was just maybe it's midlife crisis. I've got 20 years behind me, 20 years to go. Either you stick for life or you better do something with it. As you said, I took really different roles at TIFF, and I'm so thankful for everything and everybody I meet within TIFF and learned during international management at some stage, taking the road from senior expert to actually leading teams and international teams, that was really crossroads for me, but I always appreciated it. But when the day came, that was my last day, I mean, there were tears and it was emotional. It was a tough decision, but when I looked and of course people were talking to me, head unders or whatever, CA was always a company that was on my radar because I thought, look, you have corporate structures and you have a company where up to the CEO, everybody is in the same boat. It's a bit different than in a big corporation where you report upwards and then the further up you go, the less understanding is there of what you're actually doing day to day.
[00:11:20.960] - Jörg
That was one appealing thing. The other thing is, of course, it's generally faster growing pace in smaller companies. And that was something I was looking forward to not knowing that after I joined a few weeks later, CA was bought by InterTech, which is bigger than Ireland. That was interesting. But I think it's a good fit because InterTech itself is a testing, inspection, certification, consulting company, predominantly grown in the oil and gas segment. And now of course, everybody in oil and gas is going into renewables. So that brings a lot of potential for Casa.
[00:12:06.890] - Torsten
So CA roughly 180 employees. That's what the website says. And how big is InterTech?
[00:12:15.250] - Jörg
I mean, it's a entertain is more than 14,000 globally.
[00:12:19.090] - Torsten
40,000? Yes, 40. Wow.
[00:12:22.650] - Jörg
So you're making I think the, the home page needs updating because we're hiring aggressively. I would say we're more than 200.
[00:12:30.100] - Torsten
Okay, so you're back in corporate structure. Can you still operate independently within CA?
[00:12:38.340] - Jörg
Well, I mean, CAA was fully integrated into one business unit, which is a global business unit. So for the time being, CA is operating under the same brand with the same management. So everything is okay. As for that. And there is a lot of, I mean with a big corporation like InterTech, you meet people almost daily from different countries because you have opportunities all over. And that's the big advantage now that CA can go out and say, okay, we do have an office wherever the customer wants help and we can work together with the engineers that InterTech has. So all of a sudden getting a lot more faster response.
[00:13:17.590] - Torsten
Yeah. Excellent. So let's talk about what is CEA actually doing. So let's start with your customers. Who's paying you? Who's calling you?
[00:13:32.210] - Jörg
Well, I mean, it's multiple levels. Main part is developers.
[00:13:40.470] - Torsten
Sorry, that's companies who built solar parks just to.
[00:13:45.510] - Jörg
Or it could be also a lot of our customers are actually investors, could be equity investment. Quite interesting. Some we're doing also consulting and market intelligence for investors that are looking not only into investing into assets, but actually investing into companies in the renewable segment. And they want to have technology review. And that's where we are quite strong because CA has a long history in the Asian dominant production market. So has a good overview of what's happening. Very senior staff, not only the ones that you see on the conferences in Europe, but a very strong Chinese background knowledge owners, other customers could be the EPCs. EPCs predominantly do quality control either because they keep in the project's long phase or because the contract they have with the developer dictates that they do quality control. And it depends a little bit on the type of service we offer, where the customers are.
[00:14:53.550] - Torsten
And what exactly do you provide? Let's say to EPC stands for engineering, procurement and construction. So companies who would, let's say, buy the land, build the plant and then usually sell it after two years, sell the solar panel to the final owner, what kind of service do you provide to them?
[00:15:16.840] - Jörg
Right, let's maybe cluster it, but by project phase rather than by customer because it goes along the phases. So you have of course the early stage of the planning where CA can do support with site evaluation, but also then coming into the procurement phase with CA's core where we grew from, is supporting either the EPC or the developer in procuring the right equipment. That goes not only from the testing or inspection, but even before we're negotiating the terms in the contract with the supplier, making sure that you're setting the bill of materials. For example, PV module could be energy storage, could be inverted, it could be tracker, or then also setting the actual agreement and the contract, what is it? Pass and fail. If you do an inspection, it's nice to have an inspection, but if it's no agreement before, what's good and what's bad, that inspection is not fully of value. So CA is really strong with all the inspectors. We have quality control inspectors in then helping the buyers in getting the quality they're paying for. There's multiple levels to this. This is factory auditing and setting the golden standard, as we call it.
[00:16:36.750] - Jörg
But then also the inline production monitoring, which means basically we stand next to the production line while the batch for a particular asset is being produced. That could be a project over six months where we will be in the factory if needed, 24/7. Then of course you have the final inspection in the factory. This is el power measurements and so on. In parallel, you would be reliability, would be doing reliability testing in the laboratories. And here's another advantage of now working with InterTech that we now have a laboratory in the US, a laboratory in China that is part of the same group and ultimately container loading inspection or post shipment inspections. Then when you go into the actual plant production, there are services, energy prediction, construction monitoring, technical due diligence and the list goes on. Of course it's not always the same people. So we have strong people on the engineering service department in the US and Europe, while in Asia mainly the work is done on the manufacturing side and the supply chain management.
[00:18:01.610] - Torsten
And what's exactly the value you create, your differentiation now you're in competition to TUV. What makes CAO now in combination with InterTech, the go to place?
[00:18:19.390] - Jörg
Right? I tend not to compare too much with competition, but since you bring it up, I think there's different levels. I mean, CA is strong in the inspection part and TIFF has its strength in the certification and testing. Of course there's overlap, but the value that CA brings I think, is just the number of inspectors and the experience that the inspectors have on the very deep technology. So we don't send people just to do an inspection. All our engineers have worked on production lines before, so they know the products inside out. And the value we create is avoiding products leaving the factory that don't fulfill the contract. And you only find out when they're on site, which creates delays in the project, creates potential failures along the line. So it's an investment in quality, but it's really a risk mitigation going forward for projects failing.
[00:19:19.400] - Torsten
Yeah. Can you give us an idea of what's the, I mean, there's a total cost for, let's say Solar Park and give us an idea of what's the factor people need to pay you just to give us an idea of you could either hire CA or do it not do any quality control and live with the risk. Right. Can you give us an idea of the balance between the risk and the cost?
[00:19:51.710] - Jörg
Well, look, that's a question I typically also ask the customers. What do you think you should be spending on quality? And the answers are multiple that you get. But it's a hard question to say because quality, it's not just the inspection. There's all sorts of level of investment that you need to do on the quality, which does not all go to one contractor, it's not all CAA, but typically 1% of the investment is somewhat related to quality. I'm not saying that the budget that CA is getting, I wish it was, but let's put it that way. If you look at more the value creation, look at for example, if you have a particular failure mechanism, let's take it a few years back and you look at PID or something where you have potential of 2040 present power decades within two years of operation, which creates millions of lost revenue for an asset operator. And to avoid this, you have to spend a couple of $10,000. Maybe that's more the story I like to tell. And if you spend a little bit of inspection cost in the beginning of a project, the avoided cost in the long term is 100 times, 1000 times.
[00:21:21.610] - Jörg
I'm not going to share with you now exactly the.
[00:21:27.310] - Torsten
You mentioned, let's say roughly 1%. Let's stick to that. You do procurement and factory audits. What other services or activities are involved in the total quality assurance of when you build a Solar Park?
[00:21:49.730] - Jörg
Yes, like I said, it starts with the proper site selection and nowadays with biofacial you do albeito studies, you do shading analyzers, you do also ground analysis. It's all sorts and you have to do your social environmental impact study. It's a long, long list and I'm sure a lot of people that listen to cause they know part of it, but not all of it. And it's never that somebody like CA or other players in this, you go out and say, I'm going to do everything, because a lot of the companies have stuff in house. They do it themselves, but they need help in specifics. That's why I can't say we always do this, but there are things that we bring that the customers don't do themselves or they want to have a third party opinion. And this is particularly important when there is potential for dispute between two parties. Dan is always welcome to have a third party which is experienced.
[00:22:51.910] - Torsten
Would you say by now the industry is fairly mature so that you have a fairly fixed range of qualifiers, activities, or does it really vary a lot between one customer to the other? I mean, the level you engage in, that might vary, but if you don't do it, then someone else or they would do it in house. But is there like a best practice, like 80% do it the same almost the same way? Or is there still like people who like to take the risk and avoid all costs or have totally different technical approaches? What's the level of, let's say, standardization without having it formally written down?
[00:23:32.950] - Jörg
Well, I mean, there are multiple golden practice, best practice papers out there. Also Europe has been published and so on. But of course it depends a little bit on the maturity of the company that is needing the services. And there is no standard that everybody is following. And there is also different risks that companies are willing to take. Let's take an example now also where you can see that you need adjustment. We've had recently, in recent years, a lot of manufacturers out of China are opening new factories outside of China out of reasons with import tariffs and whatever, even though these are tier one, very renowned high quality manufacturers with new manufacturing sites. New issues come because you have untrained personal, you have a ramp up phase, and in such situations you would want to increase inspection rates which go out of the standard. If maybe a company has a practice, I'm going to inspect such amount of days per batch or such amount of modules by ISO standard guidelines that give you batch rates. Then in certain circumstances, it's recommendable to change those. Of course, ISO guidelines for sample picking, for example, are pretty common practice now when it comes to lab testing.
[00:25:05.490] - Jörg
For factory auditing, the recommendation is always to start with a high inspection rate and then if everything is okay, you go down along the project.
[00:25:17.510] - Torsten
You just mentioned the factory audit. What's the key factor in production when it comes down to quality? In other words, if an investor or EPC doesn't do factory auditing, what's the most likely problem he will face in the long run? With the solar park? Yes, maybe the top three issue is.
[00:25:42.060] - Jörg
That also from my experience before joining, when I had more also more lab interaction. One thing I can say for certain, if you have a project and you don't impose any quality inspections or testing, you get what others don't get, right? When there is an inspection, there's always rejects, there are projects that don't make it through that shipment because they don't fulfill the requirements of the project. Those pallets of modules, they don't go away, they're still there, they're ending up in the market and they come to those who don't impose quality insurance. So that's the risk. If you don't do anything, you will.
[00:26:22.890] - Torsten
Get what's the leftover leftovers, yeah. In a booming market, that's what happens. Let's be more specific on the technical have. What's the typical then technical issue? The junction box falls off or what happens?
[00:26:41.630] - Jörg
Junction box falls off? Not but you wouldn't see that directly in the factory. But of course what you do see is whether the adhesive on the junction box is evenly distributed and whether there's any bubbles or delamination effects. These are things that visually can be spotted. But of course it's edge distances, it's alignment, it's sharp corners on frames, it's of course cracks in the el image. And now with newer interconnection technologies, also new effects have arise. This is something that the speed industry has been struggling over the years. Every time there is a technology advanced, there's also potential for a new risk that people have not seen before. So micro cracks and black spots from not properly sold out sell fingers are still common and can be avoided if inspected properly.
[00:27:42.310] - Torsten
You just mentioned innovation and the issues that can come along with it. So two things that are now coming into the market is like Shingle modules. So you don't have the normal solar ribbon from cell to sell, but you put those cells on top of each other, just on the edge. I would assume it's like mechanically stressed. When you just stress test it, it's a very different behavior. How do you regard these Shingle modules?
[00:28:19.150] - Jörg
What do you say? With any technology advance, the advice we can give is first to have reliability testing extended and this is testing. And then of course also on the inspection part, we tend to propose higher inspection rates here in newer technologies, in particular for the Shingles, the first results that I've seen, there were additional risk for some newer types of cracking. But it depends also on the encapsulant that is used and there are multiple levels that need to be looked at how to eliminate those modules. It's not something where today say it's a technology not mature, it's definitely coming, but it's advisable to have a closer look than something that has been around for a long time.
[00:29:17.570] - Torsten
So do you also then consider new testing methods? Right, because if there's a new technology, then the standard test might not cover the new issues. Right. So how do you approach it? As CA has its own think tank or you just go always for the standards and then say, well, that's someone else has to think of.
[00:29:39.050] - Jörg
We do have a think tank, so we have our Technology and Quality department, we call it TQ, very senior guys on there, you might know George Lupus, but there are others in the team, like I said, in China with a lot of experience from development, even on the cell production lines. So yes, when there is new technologies, we give advice what might be a good test protocol. Of course, now we are also in a situation where finally there is a reliability test program from IAC International Electric Committee that gives some guidance. This is a very lengthy test program, but we pick out of that what we feel is suitable for the particular technology. And that helps because when you base things in the discussion on a standard, it's always easier to come to agreement than when somebody pulls it out of the thin air.
[00:30:39.310] - Torsten
It will always be ongoing. The discussion of how reliable are those reliable tests, how well do they copy the reality for 2030 years, it was 20 years. You installed modules 20 years ago, so you've been longer than the quality assurance phase. What's your pick on how good are those standard tests?
[00:31:09.270] - Jörg
Look, I mean, I can't name how many times I've been asked by customers say what do I need to do that I know it's going to last 20 years. And that's something as you said 20 years back. I've seen the modules built then which had almost 1 mm thick, solar cells or something like that, and steel frames or whatever. So the thing is, the innovation cycle in solar is so short that within six months you might have a big step and the reliability testing takes six months. So that's difficulty that you will not have the ability to have. Also a test that 100% simulates reality because reality is so complex and you can't copy it in an environmental chamber because it's always a compromise between cost, time and what you want to achieve. So the best that the reliability testing can do is screen for early mortality and potential of degradation. But taking from the result the exact time of death is another challenge because then you would have to do that per bill of material. Every single component of that module you cannot say because it's from this production line and this bill of materials will exactly be the same for another one.
[00:32:37.940] - Jörg
So that's a challenge that I don't see will be overcome anytime soon. But the test procedures and of course also the number of people working on this has increased so much that there is so much big brain, good brain in that that I think we found good compromise.
[00:32:59.350] - Torsten
Yeah, I mean, you always have to not just test a single component, let's say the back sheet, but you always have to test it also in correlation with the specific cell, the specific interconnection, because there might be some effects that occur only between those two components. Right? So that makes it so crazy challenging. What do you think about digital approaches like digital twins simulation? Is that a path forward or is it always just looking backwards? Right? You can explain it afterwards. Or do you think there will be a time where we can predict failures because we choose one new component and add it to the other well understood old components?
[00:33:46.570] - Jörg
Well, definitely. I think there is so much to go on still with digital twins and making the whole data available more digital. When I come to think doing our inspections in the factory, we have all the data for each single module. But along the time when it comes to the plant, all that is lost nowadays because people don't know which module ends up where, and even having different bill of materials. So I think there is big opportunity to bring the puzzle pieces together in the end, have the digital twin and knowing exactly the flesh list and the flesh module and the outcoming inspection, el all of the report on each individual component, not only the modules, but the inverters, anything really. And have that available in the digital twin and then combine it with the monitoring devices and also bringing in sensors that monitor for soiling and so on, I think we still have a path to go. What is exciting is that, for example, from InterTech in the oil and gas, it's common practice that you have assets digitized and all the sensors that are on an asset are visualized and preventive. Maintenance is derived from this data.
[00:35:04.150] - Jörg
And that's something I'm excited to see. Come to solar also.
[00:35:10.130] - Torsten
Cool. Of course, the oil and gas industry is a lot more mature. It's been around for 50 years or so. So that could be really interesting if you can learn from this more mature industry. Cool. I keep wondering, I do know that solar module manufacturers need to store the el, the electrode, medicines, images and when I asked them, they do that because they are obliged to do that. But basically it's lots of terabytes of data and I'm wondering if that makes sense or if people do work with it, what's your take?
[00:35:53.730] - Jörg
Yeah, I mean we work with it, of course, also in other projects in my previous job, it's something that when there is an issue in a system, that's what the PV module manufacturer will also pull out of the head and say look, we can prove it was good when it left our factory or not. And unfortunately, I've also seen el images being swapped for others. And you can prove that when you get a module and you compare. So it's important to have that data and compare it with data down the timeline it's being used.
[00:36:40.790] - Torsten
Definitely cool. A new innovation coming up. Nobody knows exactly when next 3510 years is. The tandem paraskite, possibly silicon tandem structure. Periscope is known to be very unstable if it's not encapsulated. Well, what's your impression? Where are we on the maturity level of this technology? And when will come? When will we have the first gigawatt produced in a year?
[00:37:15.770] - Jörg
Well, let me just pull out my crystal ball. But you and I, I think we've both been to the PV SEC this year, the World Conference. I was a bit surprised to see so many papers, which is good, obviously a lot of people working on it now. My personal feel, it's still like I share your opinion, five years probably that we actually see proper use of it. But it's touchy if you talk to people, some people say, no, it's stable now, and we can already build it in a large scale. I haven't seen it. I'm curious. It's definitely a big step forward if we have this next level of efficiency gain. Five years at least, I would say.
[00:38:10.190] - Torsten
There's this Chinese company called Micro Quanta. They are pretty pushy on bringing this technology into the field. I think they even claim they build a solar park anytime soon or they have built already. Do you have any details through your Chinese office?
[00:38:29.650] - Jörg
I didn't prepare for that question. I personally don't. But I'm sure our Chinese colleagues are up to date with the technology.
[00:38:38.710] - Torsten
Okay, I'll look it up. Okay, excellent. Yeah. So we talked a lot about factories where cells and modules are built. So now we hit the solar park. The modules are installed in the solar park. What's the key challenging in operating a solar power plant today? Right? Once you've passed your testing, what's the failure rate of modules inverters? What are other crucial components in a solar park?
[00:39:12.930] - Jörg
We've talked a lot about the module, but of course, as I said, we also do this inspection part for the trackers, for the inverters, for the energy store, even for the transformers. So there are issues there as well. But to your question on the site, I think one thing that we still need to also make sure everybody understands, one part is the components, but the other part is assembling the components. And unfortunately, and I've been to a site recently myself, which I really enjoyed, because I don't usually get to the sites anymore, I was surprised to still see exactly the same installation issues that I saw 1015 years ago. And you've got exactly the same issues. Cables being under stress, bending radios not kept, cables going over sharp corners, and missile line connectors not tightened, module screws, all sorts things that are really easy to avoid. But the reason they still pop up is because, first of all, we have a current situation where we have a lack of skilled personnel just because more solar needs to be installed, that we have trained people. I guess tense timelines means that contractors use subcontractors who might use sub subcontractors.
[00:40:34.230] - Jörg
So the skill level is not over where it should be. Rough handling of modules in the construction side leading to cracks. So we get involved a lot recently in Europe and particularly on rooftop fire safety inspections, which are not really doing a full inspection, just doing a baseline and making sure there are no major safety issues. And we had to turn a couple of systems off because they were just imminently unsafe. And that's a concern and learning in the industry still needs to continue.
[00:41:16.650] - Torsten
What was the issue with that specific plant there?
[00:41:23.930] - Jörg
First of all, if you already find that field, wired connectors, for example, are not properly assembled, they already heat up a few days after installation. That would be an immediately a reason why we would recommend to turn off rework and then turn the system back on.
[00:41:47.560] - Torsten
Yeah, okay, excellent. Hey, I know you're mostly working on large solar parks. Not sure what your experience or know how is with the rooftop systems. A question I'm asked really often is what happens if the house burns and do the firemen, do they get electric shock executed? Can you enlighten us? What's the situation?
[00:42:18.250] - Jörg
Yeah, I was involved in some research years back which was also working together with the fire guards of Munich because in particular in Germany, there was a big discussion about if I have a solar system, the fire guards will let my house burn down because they're afraid to go in. And so there was a lot of miscommunication also in the public press. In fact, one issue that some legislations or countries might have is that if you go to a small village, the local fireman is probably rest of the week. He might be the mayor or the baker or whatever, and it's a voluntary side job. And maybe once or twice a year they have to work on a big fire. And then the number of solar they had seen in their life might have been very limited and there was some uncertainty, but the fire guards had received all the training. There is really basics that they need to understand. And one thing is to know there is a solar system and ideally know where the cables go. But I have been certain that the fire guards will just stand by and watch. There might be situations where they will be hesitant to go inside because life safety is always coming first.
[00:43:42.630] - Jörg
But things in the regulations have changed also with distances on the roof, so they can enter through the roof when there is a fire and so on. So nowadays that is not so much of an issue anymore.
[00:43:55.450] - Torsten
The fire guards will come and not just look okay.
[00:44:06.510] - Jörg
Luckily, if I may add, the number of fires caused by PV are minimal. I mean, every fire is too much, but luckily it's only a very small fire. Of course there are actually fires with solar, but solar is not the cause. But then of course the fire guards still need to know that there is solar because there is a potential risk of electric touching parts.
[00:44:32.410] - Torsten
Yeah, a solar pipe is a pretty macro system, so it's then hard to track down if there's an issue. For example, which module has an issue. So do you see the need to measure individual modules? So there are mobile apps where you can measure individual modules on site. And also what do you think of drone based imaging systems that use electrodescence, infrared imaging? Do we need other methods on top? What's your recommendation to your customers if they talk about quality assurance during operation?
[00:45:11.810] - Jörg
So, going in sequence of your questions, testing on site, a lot of El testing on site is happening and we're doing that all the time for shipment inspection or even on the wrecks. That's something that is being pushed and for reason because you want to make sure that there is no issues by rough handling in the field, but also in the transportation power measurement in the field is something that is done. It's not the same volume as El because a lot of people seem to think if the yell image doesn't show anything and I've done the power measurement in the factory, in the field, doesn't give me really much additional information for new modules. Of course there are situations where you might want to have a claim against supplier down the line when the plant is two, four or five years old or whatever and individual modules might be taken off the racks for measurement because you have higher accuracy than measuring on the wrecks. A mobile app can be a solution there, but mobile app is of course it makes only sense when you have a number of modules. You don't come with a mobile lab to measure 1020 modules because the effort of bringing the stuff there doing is going to be more expensive than actually putting those modules on the pallet and sending them to lab.
[00:46:37.230] - Jörg
But if it's hundreds of modules make sense and InterTech has a mobile lab in the US. Also looking at this further down the line. Now as for the drones, heavily used infrared from drones is at least in Europe more or less a standard. Now El is I think I'm personally quite following for some years now el from drones, I totally believe it's coming, it's happening already. It's a proven technology. There is of course still at the moment some hesitance and do you want to pay the price for it because of course it's night time work, it's a little more slower than infrared and so on, but there is a lot of improvements happening and I totally believe that's the next thing.
[00:47:35.010] - Torsten
Do you follow what's going on with photoluminescence measurement via drones? So that's a new approach which is a bit complicated, right? But be of course nice because you don't need to interact with the solar park itself. The idea is to with El, you need to interact with the solar park. With TL, you wouldn't need to.
[00:47:59.690] - Jörg
Yeah, we're actually doing some studies ourselves also with that partnership with InterTech. But there are multiple levels. You have near infrared, you have the El. And I think there's research going on which I'm following really keen to see what's the best practice coming out of that. In the end, at least today, I don't think there's the one technology that will solve everything you may need to combine. And that's what I see at the moment that a lot of people rely 100% on infrared drones images. And I see issues with that because also, since it's an easy technology, there's a lot of companies flying with freelancers who might be doing wedding photos on the weekend and fly solar bust lines in between. And in the end there is a risk of misinterpretation of images if it's not known the circumstances which these were taken. So just as an example, you have a system that might be regulated by the utility. And if that's happening while the drone is flying and the pilot doesn't know that actually the power plant is not at that time connected to the grid, but it's an open circuit, you get completely different infrared image and it could completely lead to complete misinterpretation.
[00:49:22.600] - Jörg
So that's why I think there is always a value of combining at least two methods.
[00:49:28.110] - Torsten
Yeah, you mentioned, I think now the third time, the skill of the people involved. Right. So that's interesting. Right. So lots of know how and technology is there, but for the installation, for the factory workers, for the people who install, for the people who do quality assurance, we need to make sure as a solar industry that we always use really skilled labor to avoid trouble. Right. And of course, in a growing industry, that's one of the key challenges. Right. You need to educate a lot faster than in a, let's say stable or slowly growing industry.
[00:50:10.770] - Jörg
I think at the moment, everybody that's in the industry probably has some issues in finding new talent because everybody is chasing them. So collectively, I think we need to work on building training to make this attractive to new talent also and really get more people involved because Terabyte market needs a lot of people.
[00:50:37.440] - Torsten
Yes. So your wish list, what innovations do you think are required to maximize performance, make your job easier for quality assurance? What would you like to have wishlist?
[00:50:55.050] - Jörg
It's almost Christmas, right?
[00:50:57.730] - Torsten
There's got snow here in Latte.
[00:51:00.690] - Jörg
Okay, well, we touched on this before. Getting the digitalization on, having end to end quality control also available on platforms and that could incorporate lab inspection, field inspection, drone inspection, sensors. I think that really will be something that the industry needs to work on together. The puzzle pieces that everybody is separately working on together to get more intelligence and come to the point where you could predict the issues to come. That's really where I think the learning needs to go.
[00:51:45.060] - Torsten
[00:51:46.370] - Jörg
From the technology advances, of course, we see energy storage has still a lot of potential in coming down with cost, with having new innovation nowadays with the energy crisis in Europe also is a completely different market scenario than anybody was expecting. So storage all of a sudden is economically viable almost everywhere because you can produce electricity cheap and sell it expensive. So all of a sudden that market is growing so bigly. So I think there's going to be big technology advances in storage, which I'm excited about.
[00:52:25.860] - Torsten
Yeah. Let's leave the very technical area when we talk about carbon footprint of solar modules, which is now widely discussed, and also local content regulations for certain markets. How could this be tracked? Right? I mean, I produce my modules in a factory in Country X and Country Y says I don't want to have a solar module with a high carbon footprint. How can this be tracked? There's not a stamp on the module. There could be a stamp, of course, but how can you prove that it's true?
[00:53:12.510] - Jörg
So, again, multiple levels of the question. What CEA has been engaged with a lot in the recent months is particularly driven through the US. But now coming to Europe with the UFL Paige Forced Labor Prevention Act in the US. Where particular modules are not coming through customs anymore, the request is there to prove where does my material come from? So this is a question about traceability. And before that there was no traceability in solar. I mean, maybe for some parts, but materials get mixed up and you have a raw material where that traceability is not available. So first step is to build a traceability system and audit on that and put it in place. First of all, that upstream we know where the material is coming from and then also allow for auditing against that system. That's something that has only really happened in the last 18 months, but it's it's getting there. And what you're touching on then is, of course, now we have talk about local manufacturing outside of the now dominant markets of poor production, which will be supported by regulation put in the US. Or in Europe, where the European Commission is talking about putting requirements in place, for example, for carbon footprint, for example, for energy efficiency and so on, with the target, of course, that such regulations should support sustainability of local production.
[00:55:00.170] - Jörg
I have seen years back North African countries or whatever having rules for local content for their systems that all failed in my view, because it allows the manufacturer to build factories, but then it's not competitive in the long run against gigawatt factories. So with the new horizons for manufacturing in Europe, for example, it's essential to have tools in place that make production sustainable in the long run. And carbon footprint and such measures are one puzzle piece that would help local manufacturing to survive.
[00:55:41.780] - Torsten
Okay, then software solutions are also like really on the ground auditing for these components or how is it implemented?
[00:55:54.330] - Jörg
Yeah, sorry, I hadn't answered that part of the question. Yes, of course, the carbon footprint calculations, there are software available that most people use, but the software is the one thing. Data input for those databases is crucial, of course, and then you have to go deep in energy flows. Not only the carbon footprint is interesting, but also the whole footprint looking at water consumption, poisonous materials being used, and so on. So there is multiple levels and in the end the calculations are done based on input parameters that you can either collect from going to the factories and going to the procurement, but also doing measurements.
[00:56:40.690] - Torsten
Tedious work. Lots of opportunity, I would assume, for CA. It's good. Excellent. Thanks a lot, Jörg. My very last question, you touched on it already a little bit, but maybe you can when you look at the industry as a whole, right, and forget about tiny aspects. That would be my last question. What's required to take solar, including storage and wind, all the good renewables to the next level? How can we accelerate the deployment of solar or otherwise? What's blocking? What are roadblocks that avoid that we reach the next level?
[00:57:26.650] - Jörg
Look, I tend to think we are already on the next level. I mean, going one year back, nobody believed would be where we are now. And what has happened is that there is a complete shift in the perception of solar in the market. Not only the people that have been in the industry for some time are looking at it. We have all these new companies investing in solar because it's just where do you invest money in now? Where do you get a dividend solar? So that's just, I think, what was needed, that you come to the point and everybody was thinking it's going to happen when oil is getting more expensive or whatever. But we're there now. I mean, it's competitive, so there is no roadblock in that sense. What is the roadblock is at the moment, in getting it out quick enough, is permitting its workforce and disruptions in supply chains. These are things that need to be solved. But the market itself and the circumstances, we are in the next level.
[00:58:30.610] - Torsten
Wonderful closing. Jörg, thanks a lot for joining. All the best in your new job, in your new environment. And I'm sure we'll meet soon at some conference or workshop. Thanks a lot, Jörg.
[00:58:44.330] - Jörg
Thanks, Torsten. A pleasure talking. Have a good day.
[00:58:47.180] - Torsten
You too. Bye.