The DOE-funded Solar America Board for Codes and Standards (Solar ABCs) now recommends that IEC quality standards be adopted for all solar modules purchased in the U.S. Improving the quality and reliability of photovoltaic (PV) technology sold in the U.S. market is the goal, thereby bringing solar equipment up to par with that of Europe and Asia, both of which already have strict testing and certification requirements in place. Without the safeguard of third-party testing, industry insiders fear that poor-quality solar energy equipment could flood the U.S. market — including modules rejected by certification officials in other countries.
TÜV Rheinland PTL, Tempe, Ariz., the largest photovoltaic testing center in the U.S., believes that PV manufacturers should embrace the new policy, which was designed to positively affect both the quality and longevity of the domestic solar market. Specifically, Solar ABCs' Recommended Standards for PV Modules and Systems advocates that PV manufacturers have their modules independently tested and certified for minimum quality and reliability according to the following international standards: IEC 61215 (crystalline silicon flat plate modules), IEC 61646 (thin film flat plate modules), and IEC 62108 (concentrator modules/assemblies). These standards are considered minimum requirements in Europe.
“As minimum quality standards begin to be enacted and enforced, we should see less degradation in cell efficiency over time,” explains Rich Bozicevich of TÜV Rheinland PTL. “Technology advances will continue to have the greatest impact on increased cell efficiency levels, whereas stricter testing and certification will lead to improved failure rates and better cell performance over time.”
In other words, manufacturers' performance claims will get a reality check from the independent testing, with less room for exaggeration about lifetime and reliability. Bozicevich adds that top-tier solar manufacturers are already engaged in third-party testing to guarantee minimum quality standards in the U.S., and the new recommendations should help other manufacturers do so as well.
“Third-party, independent testing and certification helps remove substandard PV modules from the market, effectively raising overall quality levels of equipment being sold,” says Matthias Heinze, director of technology for TUV Rheinland PTL.