Hundreds of thousands of Scheuten-manufactured solar modules were yesterday declared a fire risk by the Dutch Food and Goods Authority (NVWA).

Up to 650,000 Scheuten ‘Multisol’ PV modules supplied between August 2009 and February 2012 have been manufactured with an alleged design flaw in the junction boxes. The modules in question are the P6-48, P6-54, P6-60 and P6-66 versions.

The NVWA said that there have been 15 fires across Europe directly attributed to faulty modules manufactured by the now-bankrupt Scheuten Solar Holding.

Last March, a new company, Scheutuen Solar Solutions, took over all commercial activities of the defunct Scheuten Solar Holding. Scheuten Solar Solutions is a completely separate company that has no legal liability over the faulty junction boxes.

Insurers acting for Scheuten Solar Holding appointed Suncycle, a company which specialises in test and repair services for the solar industry, to repair the faulty modules.

Suncycle was charged with identifying potentially affected systems. Once the systems had been flagged up, Suncycle would then apply a TÜV-certified solution to repair the junction box.

Dr. Mischa Paterna, CEO of Suncycle, said that the insurance company has paid for repairs to all “high risk” systems – for example, BIPV systems and in public buildings such as schools.

But according to Dr. Paterna, this only accounts for approximately 10% of the modules potentially affected.

Crucially, the fate of the other 90% of modules potentially affected – perhaps as many as 585,000 modules across Europe – is still to be resolved. The bankruptcy of Scheuten Solar Holding means that there is “no one professional voice managing the issue”, Dr Paterna added.

Since being contracted by the insurance firm, Suncycle has provided an online registration form in four languages for Scheuten customers to check if their modules are affected and to register their installations.

However, Dr. Paterna said this has not proved very successful as many installers feared they would be liable for the cost of repairs. “Installers have therefore been very hesitant in registering with us customer details,” he said.

The UK’s situation

Scheuten Solar Solutions operated throughout Europe, including the UK where it gained MCS certification in April 2010 for the Multisol series of modules.

It is not known how many of the affected modules have been installed in the UK. According to Dr. Paterna several customers and installers have contacted Suncycle which has said it would provide details of the quantities of modules shipped to the UK to Solar Power Portal as soon as possible.

The junction box flaw

France has been badly affected by the use of the faulty modules, witnessing the first fires. The country has a large number of ‘in-roof’ BIPV installations, thanks to a previously generous FiT for ‘in-roof’ installations.

In July 2012, two French trade associations TPAMPS and GPPEP warned members that there was a fire risk due to defective junction boxes. The French Directorate General for Competition, Consumption and Repression of Fraud (DGCCRF) undertook an investigation into the fires and documented the defective junction boxes produced by Altrak were the cause, not the modules.

The modules that have been identified as a fire risk use a junction box labelled “Solexus” which was manufactured by Dutch firm, Alrack. The junction boxes were supplied exclusively to Schetuen Solar Holding by Alrack and have not been used by any other manufacturer.

In Holland, the NVWA believes that the design flaw in the junction box is “fretting corrosion of the tin plated contacts”.

The body is concerned that the fault could lead to the melting of the junction box, which could “result in PV string/system failure and subsequent identification by inverter and/or system monitoring system. If the modules had been installed in-roof or on a fire sensitive roof, the melting junction box could potentially cause a fire.”

However, the company which manufactured the allegedly faulty junction boxes, Alrack, is refuting the findings of the NVWA and the DGCRF.

In a statement on the company’s website Alrack explains: “NVWA gives the impression that the problem would only occur with the Alrack Solexus junction boxes…Analysis shows that the problems still arise with junction boxes from different vendors and are caused by a Scheuten Solar design error.”

In order to repair the identified fault, Suncycle re-solders and full-fills the junction box with potting agent. The Dutch authorities now want to undertake lifetime tests of their own to see if this repair will last the service lifetime of the modules.

The next steps

If you installed Scheuten solar modules in the UK please contact Suncycle to determine whether any of the panels installed could be affected by the junction box flaw and therefore a fire risk.

Solar Power Portal will update this story as it develops.

Mark Osborne, Senior Editor for PV-Tech contributed to this article