Up to ten percent of all solar modules are damaged during transport. Often this is only discovered once the modules have been installed and are not delivering enough power. DB SCHENKERpvchain puts an end to this problem.
They were deployments of a rather different nature that led to the development of this new product. “Several times we were commissioned to pick up all solar modules from solar parks that had just been built, because the panels were already defective when they were installed,” says Joachim Marxer. “We wanted to spare our customers that.” The Vice President Global Vertical Market Semicon/Solar at DB Schenker is closely involved in the developments taking place in this burgeoning industry. That is why he is convinced that what the sector needs right now is a global logistics service designed specifically to ensure a high level of transport safety. “Up to now, the modules were not consistently tested so any damage to the microstructure only became apparent when the entire system went into the grid.” DB SCHENKERpvchain now offers just such a test procedure.
“Our customers have the right to receive flawless products,” says Joachim Marxer. The margins for the operation of solar plants are so tightly calculated that even the slightest performance reduction in photovoltaic modules (PV modules, for short) can quickly render a facility uneconomical. Vibrations and shocks incurred during transport, mostly as ocean freight from the Far East, pose the biggest risk to the modules. “If by chance the vibrations during transport correspond precisely with the resonance frequency of the module, then this causes microscopic cracks that impair the performance,” Marxer explains. Basically, avoiding this effect should not be a difficult task. However, it would require involvement on the part of the manufacturers. Marxer and his team realized that the problem of damages in transit could only be solved if it was addressed on various levels. “Apart from the transport itself, we felt it was important to look closely at the transport preparations made by the manufacturers themselves.”
And above all: the experts from DB Schenker turned to the TÜV Rheinland and together developed a reliable test procedure that monitors the module’s performance at various points along the supply chain. As a leading inspection organization in the solar industry, TÜV Rheinland was able to contribute its wealth of experience into this optimized transport chain. As a result, both the organization and DB Schenker advise manufacturers when it comes to selecting the right packaging for the modules. “Due to severe price pressures, the packaging needs to be cost-efficient,” says Marxer. “Together we find economical solutions that offer considerably more protection. Sometimes, all it needs are small improvements to significantly reduce vibrations. The packaging must be certified by the TÜV Rheinland before manufacturers can use DB SCHENKERpvchain.” Material testing for the packaging is conducted, among others, by the VDZ GmbH in Dortmund. At this independent testing center for packaging engineering and transport, the modules, in packaging provided by the manufacturers, are subjected to shock and vibration tests.
In a second phase, the modules are tested at the manufacturer’s location immediately after production. This involves spot checks by TÜV employees in a darkroom where the modules are “bombarded” with light from a so-called flasher. A measuring unit then displays the module’s degree of efficiency. The modules are continuously monitored during transport. This is achieved through the use of the DB SCHENKERsmartbox premium. Attached to the ocean freight container, it enables the customer to inform himself online about the status of his consignment. He can check on its current location and receive a number of status reports, for example, whether the goods in the container have been exposed to any severe vibrations.
The final link in the PV chain is the destination warehouse operated by DB Schenker, for example in the port of Antwerp, a hub for the import of solar modules. This is where a test line has been installed which is identical to the one used at the manufacturer’s site. The efficiency of the modules is also measured with the use of a flasher. Based on the serial numbers, the data collected can be compared directly with the values measured in previous tests. This way, any noteworthy discrepancies through possible damages in transit can be detected immediately.
In his position as Business Development Manager for DB Schenker in Antwerp, Julian Bischofs is responsible for liaising with the customers. Most recently, he has seen a fundamental shift in values within the industry.
“Whereas the sector used to focus on manufacturing the goods as quickly as possible, nowadays, it is more important to deliver peak quality.” That explains why a product like DB SCHENKERpvchain has come about at just the right time. “Now manufacturers and end customers are prepared to pay the additional costs because they know that their goods will be delivered to the construction site in perfect condition.”
In Germany, the boom in solar energy has died down following the elimination of state subsidies. Marxer says: “The times when up to 80 percent of all solar modules produced worldwide were installed in Germany are long gone.” Instead, other heavyweights have latched on to the merits of solar power. China, to name just one example, is relying heavily on solar energy in the electrification of entire new towns and cities being built. In Latin America, PV modules play a vital role, for instance in the operation of mines. “With DB SCHENKERpvchain we have provided an innovative solution for this global growth market,” says Marxer. “It will provide operators and manufacturers with even more support in implementing profitable photovoltaic projects.”