Photovoltaic panels

Solar energy is one of the most efficient sources of clean energy. It represented the second-largest absolute generation growth of all renewable technologies – the solar PV generation increased by 22% in 2019. The photovoltaic market is continuously developed, and the cost of panels is getting lower over the years. We present you essential information when it comes to importing photovoltaic panels.

Photovoltaic panels – specifications

Over the decades, the prices of solar panels have dropped drastically. Between 2008 and 2012, module prices fell by as much as 80%. It was possible because of improving technology and relocating production to countries with lower labor costs.

There are many types of PV modules with different specifications on the market. The most basic are:

  • module lifespan (20-25 years)
  • protection against salinity (for installation in coastal areas)
  • material (multicrystalline or monocrystalline)
  • cell efficiency (e.g., 17%)
  • the material of the front part, shell
  • number of cells, e.g., 60 cells per panel (6 x 10)
  • the material of the back part
  • dimensions of cells in the module
  • the material from which the frame is made
  • dimensions of the photovoltaic panel
  • panel weight
  • on-grid or off-grid
  • maximum current
  • nominal power
  • maximum voltage
  • operating temperature range
  • maximum load capacity
  • types of cables and connectors (standalone components must also comply with product safety regulations)
  • cable length
  • output tolerance

If you want to import photovoltaic panels, you should have at least basic parameters of the goods specified. Based on your requirements, the supplier will be able to suggest you the most suitable product.

Manufacturers of photovoltaic modules

The country that ranked first in the production of photovoltaic panels in the world is China. China produces more than 70% of the world’s photovoltaic panels on the market. Changzhou in China’s Jiangsu province is one of the main centers of solar panel production. In this province, the leading areas are Wuxi, Yangzhou, and Suzhou. In Zhejiang province, the concentration of manufacturers is in, for example, Ningbo, and in Guangdong province – in Foshan and Shenzhen.

Another country producing photovoltaic modules is South Korea. South Korea’s share of global panel production is 6%. It is also one of the most popular sources of modules in Central Europe. Malaysia, Europe, and India are placed next. The US imports solar panels mainly from Malaysia (over 44%), Vietnam, and South Korea.

Solar PV module manufacturing by country in 2018
Distribution of solar photovoltaic module production worldwide in 2018, by country, data: Statista

Unfortunately, panels cannot last forever, and there are not enough clear guidelines for dealing with used modules and components. This problem is most evident in China, where there is no regulation of solar panel recycling. Governments should establish procedures and specify who is responsible for the produced waste.

Who does generate the most energy from solar panels?

China has an overwhelming advantage when it comes to generating electricity from photovoltaic panels. The largest module producer in the world generated almost 180000,000 GWh in 2018.

The United States (over 81000,000 GWh) is second place in the production of photovoltaic modules in terms of power. Japan, Germany, and India are not far behind the USA.

Electricity generation by country solar photovoltaic in 2018
Electricity generation by country (solar photovoltaic) in 2018, data: Irena

Transport of photovoltaic modules

It is extremely easy to damage fragile photovoltaic panels in transit. The most undesirable cracks are those invisible to the eye, which may cause severe damage to the entire system.

  • Photovoltaic panels should be transported in transparent packages so that any defects can be noticed without damaging the packaging film.
  • It is best to stack the modules vertically to reduce the pressure of a single panel. There should be separators between the panels. Properly separated, the panels are protected against breakage during transport.
  • To increase the level of protection, put additional protection to the four corners of each module stack.
  • Another way to pack the panels is to put them into separate cartons and put them into a larger packaging.
  • As an importer, it may be better if you use controlling systems. If a panel is damaged during transport, it will be easier to find the cause and gain a warranty.

How to transport the panels on a pallet? One pallet usually holds 20-30 medium-sized panels. A pallet should be larger than the panels so that the weight is evenly distributed.

If the panels are stacked horizontally, put a piece of cardboard larger than the panel on the bottom first. Place the first panel with the glass side up, and over it place a cellular rubber sheet or cardboard. The next panels are placed with the glass side down, and the last panel with the glass side up. Use separating panels between the modules.

Corners should be secured, and the whole stack fixated with stretch tape. Then, wrap a transparent foil around the load and secure it with adhesive tape. Ideally, the tape should be printed with the load handling instructions.

The pallet can be loaded in a container and shipped, e.g., on a container ship.

Marking of cargo

In order to let know to the ones handling the cargo how to do it correctly, it is important to mark the loaded pallet and its load with the following markings:

  • do not stack
  • up here
  • keep dry
  • fragile
Solar panels marks
Marking of cargo with photovoltaic modules, Solarwatt

Customs duty on solar panels

Payment of customs duties is one of the importer’s many obligations. Customs codes and tariff rates can be found in the tariff systems – TARIC (Integrated Tariff of the European Communities) in case of imports to the EU and Harmonized Tariff Schedule when importing to the USA.

According to TARIC, customs duty for photosensitive semiconductor devices, including photovoltaic cells whether or not assembled in modules or made up into panels; light-emitting diodes, code 8541409000, is 0%.

In the HTS tariff system, the duty for solar cells assembled into modules or made up into panels (code 8541.40.60.15) is also 0%.

Such an attractive duty makes it profitable to import photovoltaic modules to both the European Union and the United States.

Certificates for photovoltaic panels in the EU

There are two sets of elements in the photovoltaic panel system: power supply (meters, inverters, DC isolation switches) and the panel, i.e., connectors, mounting, and trackers. The importer should ensure that all these components comply with the requirements of the European Union market.

The main European document regulating photovoltaic panels on the market is the Regulation (EU) No 305/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 March 2011. It lays down harmonized conditions for the marketing of construction products. Photovoltaic panels are listed under code 20: “Structural Metallic Products and Ancillaries” in Annex IV.

The regulation states that products such as solar panels should have CE marking. It means that the declaration of conformity is also required.

In accordance with Directive 2012/19/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 July 2012 on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), modules should be marked with a crossed-out waste container.

An additional advantage is standard ISO 9050, which specifies the methods of determining light and energy transmittance of solar radiation for glazing in buildings.

Generally, when it comes to products intended on the EU market, you have to check whether the goods are subject to harmonized standards. If your construction products it not fully covered, a European technical assessment (ETA) should be issued. ETA is the basis for a manufacturer’s Declaration of Performance, further allowing to place CE marking. Be mindful of the fake CE markings.

CE mark vs China Export
CE mark and China Export comparison

Certificates for photovoltaic panels in the USA

Imported components must comply with the requirements of the target market. In the USA, solar panels placed on the market should have a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory mark (NRTL). The mark stands for safety-conforming installation and quality of the solar module. You can choose, for example, UL (Underwriters Laboratories), though you can choose any of OSHA-recognized NRTL of your choice. The alternative is ETL (Electrical Testing Laboratory) or TUV.

Depending on the laboratory, the markings are UL 1703 (Underwriters Laboratories), IEC (International “Electrotechnical” Commission), TUV (Rhineland), CSA, or ETL (Electrical Testing Laboratory).

Bear in mind that when one buys a panel without an NRTL certification mark, they are not allowed to connect solar panels to the grid.

As it was previously mentioned, the ISO 9050 certificate is also desirable.

Due to the high demand for new energy sources, there is no reason to believe that the demand for solar modules will decrease. Thanks to the zero-duty rate, the import of solar panels is profitable. However, you must ensure that the goods comply with the regulations on the target market and that the transport proceeds smoothly.

Be mindful of imposters promising the moon. Having your supplier certified is an excellent measure against scams.

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