Kyocera Solar Modules Prove Long-Term Reliability in Colorado Mountains

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Kyocera's solar modules at Colorado's Big Mountain Ranch
Kyocera’s solar modules at Colorado’s Big Mountain Ranch continue to perform well after ten years of extreme weather and a racking failure.
Photo courtesy of Sunsense Solar

How long do solar photovoltaic modules last? Many manufacturers guarantee their equipment for 20 years, but is this realistic? Kyocera, one of the world’s leading producers and suppliers of solar photovoltaic modules and related systems, feels it is, and they have real-world facts to prove it.

Back in 2003, Kyocera Solar supplied the PV modules for an 8.2-kilowatt off-grid hillside installation at Colorado’s Big Mountain Ranch. The modules would face the extreme environment found at 8,500 feet above sea level, which meant being buried under snow and ice, and enduring solar irradiance levels of roughly twice those of laboratory test conditions.

In 2011, the post-piers supporting the modules migrated downhill, creating severe torque and stress on the module frames. Yet, despite the structural damage, and after 10 years of operation, the Kyocera modules continue to perform well. A test by a North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) PV installation professional found that the 10-year-old Kyocera modules are performing at more than 95 percent of their original rating.

Steven Haines, Lead Solar Consultant for Sunsense Solar, notes, “We rebuilt the hillside and re-racked the system without needing to replace even a single module, and all 52 of the Kyocera modules survived this extreme racking stress in perfect condition. The results of the testing indicate that the modules are still producing above 95 percent of their originally rated short circuit current, even after a decade of service in an extreme environment. That’s significant, especially after the trauma they went through on the previous rack where they were twisted and pinched as the old ground mount rack settled down into the hillside. That could affect the modules’ waterproofing and potentially cause internal water corrosion damage, but the Kyocera modules are working great.”

Still, that’s only ten years. What happens when modules reach that age manufacturers like to herald, 20 years?

Another pair of installations in Colorado demonstrate that Kyocera’s modules continue to perform as advertized. Two projects, built in 1991 and 1995, both still reliably power the loads for which they were designed. The 18- and 22-year-old systems electrify two backcountry huts in Colorado’s mountains as part of a network operated by the non-profit 10th Mountain Division Hut Association for outdoors enthusiasts. These off-grid huts are only accessible by skis, snowmobile or, in summer, by hiking, mountain biking, or four-wheel drive vehicles.

The Betty Bear hut’s four Kyocera LA51 solar modules were installed in 1991 and a system of the same size was installed on the Skinner hut in 1995. Both of the huts are located above 11,000 feet, where extreme heat, cold, and irradiance are the norm.

Ben Dodge, Executive Director of the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, expressed his satisfaction with the modules. “Kyocera panels have certainly proven durable, and 10th Mountain Division hut visitors have enjoyed their dependable power for over two decades now. While the elevation of the huts puts them in an extreme environment and users are sometimes not as gentle or informed as they should be, the panels have withstood these challenges.”

These installations validate other globally recognized tests and quality certifications that demonstrate the world-class reliability of Kyocera solar modules. Kyocera’s modules were the world’s first to be certified in the Long-term Sequential Test performed by TÜV Rheinland Japan. In addition, high-voltage stress testing by the Fraunhofer Center for Silicon Photovoltaics (Germany) revealed that Kyocera’s solar modules did not show any decline in output after being subjected to severe conditions.

Steve Hill, president of Kyocera Solar Inc., explains, “With nearly 40 years in the solar industry, Kyocera has proven time and again that its modules are highly reliable even in the most extreme situations.”

More than just marketing hype, Hill notes the practical benefit of the module’s longevity. “These three installations in the beautiful mountains of Colorado are living up to our goal of offering dependable solar power solutions while helping to preserve the environment for future generations.”

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