Driven by the worldwide demand for renewable energy, the increase in PV manufacturing has created an increased need for certifying the average conversion efficiency performance. This is particularly true with the trend toward developing lower cost PV cell technologies that are using lower quality material and simpler types of fabrication that can introduce unwanted defects into the final product.
To speed entry into the international markets, there is a trend in new testing laboratories opening that offer PV certification that meet international standards.
With the constant quest to improve average energy conversion efficiency, PV panels require standardized testing and certification. Because different countries have a variety of standards for PV certification, testing can be complex, time-consuming and expensive for manufacturers.
Varied Testing Required
The test procedures for PV modules combine a “design qualification and type approval” with a “safety evaluation” as a requirement to enter the global market to ensure all PVs are manufactured at the same quality level as the samples tested at the laboratory.
International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)works in cooperation with member countries, as well as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). The IEC certification is considered the gold standard for proving PV performance under extreme conditions.
The IEC 61215 for flat plateschecks all parameters responsible for the ageing of PV modules. The thermal Cycling test and Ultra-violet test measure the affect ofchanging of climates, coldness, warmth, humidity, and the Mechanical load measures the affects ofhail, wind suction, wind pressure and snow. IEC 61215 is the quality symbol for crystalline PV modules and is required for most U.S. and international funding programs. The IEC 61646 for thin-film PV modules is identical to IEC 61215 for crystalline modules with additional tests that take the degradation of amorphous silicon due to temperature and solar exposure into account. IEC 62108 forconcentrator PV modules tests that the electrical, mechanical and thermal design of the CPV modules and assemblies are capable of withstanding prolonged climate exposure. Finally, the IEC 61730certification tests forsafe electrical and mechanical operation, including the prevention of electrical shock, fire hazards and injury resulting from mechanical or environmental stress.
In order to provide convenience for manufacturers and deal with the testing requirements of various National Certification Bodies (NCBs), an international CB Scheme was created by the IECEE (IEC System for Conformity testing and Certification of Electrotechnical Equipment and Components) to speed entry into multiple markets. PowerMark Corporation has also created an internationally-accepted energy rating certification test.
With global PV manufacturers expanding, several new independent testing and certification facilities have recently been announced while established testing facilities have also expanded their services. And much of the interest is aimed at the U.S. PV market.
New U.S. Testing Labs
The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory located in Colorado, and TÜV Rheinland PTL lab located in Arizona have, up until now, been the two primary facilities for testing PVs in the U.S.
Several global testing organizations joined forces on April 7th and opened the CFV Solar Test Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The CFV Lab is jointly run by CSA Group (Toronto), VDE Testing and Certification Institute (Offenbach, Germany), the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (Freiburg, Germany), and the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (Cambridge, Massachusetts) to offer certification for PV panel, thin film and concentrating solar power (CPV) devices.
The 25,000-square foot indoor lab includes climate chambers for thermal and humidity tests; a large AAA+ solar simulator for temperature performance testing; and, a five-acre outdoor testing area with single and double-axis trackers for CPV testing. The operators of the facility say it will help manufacturers enter the market quicker and at a lower cost since the lab can simultaneously certify PV panels for multiple countries.
“From other markets we learned that accurate and efficient testing, backed by profound R&D expertise, is a key element for quick deployment of the PV industry,” said Dr. Harry Wirth, head of department photovoltaic modules, systems and reliability at Fraunhofer ISE. “Our joint venture has the capabilities to provide the required comprehensive services.”
Another firm entering the U.S. market is Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, considered the lead organization for applied research in Europe with its 60 facilities, announced in May it is developing Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (CSE) in Boston. The 50,000-square-foot CSE facility will house R&D labs and offer “comprehensive support for development, testing, evaluation, education, and marketing of new technologies with considerable flexibility in project structure and intellectual property concerns,” according to CSE.
SGS Solar Test House
SGS Group’s Solar Test House was recently certified as one of only five German labs by the International Electronics Committee System for Conformity Testing and Certification of Electrotechnical Equipment and Components (IECEE) accredited for testing in the CB program. As a CB Testing Lab (CBTL), SGS can now offer PV manufacturers a simpler and faster certification for international markets.
SGS operates over 1,250 offices and laboratories globally and is considered the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification companies. The IECEE accreditation means SGS can now issue international CB testing certificates and reports for PV manufacturers.
“With accreditation of our testing laboratory we can significantly shorten market-launch times for our customers’ solar panels and thus simplify their global expansion,” said Jörn Brembach, manager of the SGS Solar Test House.
TÜV Rheinland Solar Testing Center
Nearly 80 percent of all PV global module manufacturers have their products tested by TÜV Rheinland at one of their test laboratories in Cologne, Germany; Shanghai, China; Taichung, Taiwan; Yokohama, Japan; Bangalore, India, or the U.S.
TUEV Rheinland has now commissioned a new solar simulator provided by PSE AG for their Cologne Solar Testing Center. This solar simulator test bench can be used to measure PV modules, thermal solar collectors, as well as hybrids of both technologies, in a sunlight simulator.
"The combined simulator will allow us not only to save time and set-up costs but also to attain maximum reproducibility of the measured results. This is impressively confirmed by the first measurements", commented Ulrich Fritzsche, Specialist Coordinator for Solar Thermal Collectors at TUEV Rheinland.
Under laboratory conditions, the simulator can test PV modules and thermal collectors with a full solar light spectrum so precise tests can be performed under environmental conditions independent of outdoor climate variations. These results can determine whether PV modules and collectors actually meet the efficiency promises made by the manufacturers.
The U.S. TÜV Rheinland PTL facility in Tempe, Arizona - North America’s largest PV testing center - was formed as a partnership between Arizona State University and TÜV Rheinland. In March 2011, TÜV Rheinland’s Arizona facility was approved by the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration to provide certification for ANSI/UL1703, a major regulatory requirement for launching any PV product in the U.S. market.
Testing for the Quirky U.S. Market
The U.S. PV market is considered to be wide open and solar installations are expected to vastly increase due to a number of uniquely American circumstances. Because of the opportunities of this expanding market, the expansion of PV testing has become crucial.
While the U.S. marketis wide open, it is a bit tricky. In the United States, 31 individual states have set "renewable portfolio standards" (RPS) mandating their utilities generate a certain percentage of power from a renewable energy source by a specific deadline. For large-scale CPV manufactures, this opens a sales market. For individual PV module sales for home installation, such as Japan’s plan to install PVs on 10 million homes by 2020, individual U.S. states that offer various rebates and tax initiatives for PV installations also require testing specified by the individual state’s Energy Commission. That means any PVs marketed must meet stringent - and varied - testing criteria. Some state Energy Commissions actually list which PV manufactures’ products qualify for the rebates and incentives based on independent testing.
For this reason, the expansion and streamlining of testing facilities in the U.S. and elsewhere can only help as PV manufactures continue to create new PV manufacturing processes and race to increase verifiable energy conversion efficiencies.