PV is a global market, but there are currently no global certification standards. As the module market space continues to expand in size and numbers of manufacturers, global regulatory groups are challenged to write and enforce global material and module standards. Currently material and module manufacturers are forced to certify, and develop, according to multiple regional requirements. For the material developer, regulatory approval on both materials and modules takes upwards of a year. As it cannot be conducted contiguous to other development steps, this is a ‘direct add-on’ to the time lag between innovation investment and the profit return.
There are some things that can be done to improve this process for new products entering the PV market:
Have more trust in materials manufacturers
Diligent materials manufacturers do extensive testing before introducing any new product and/or its components. The testing includes all tests outlined in UL and IEC documents along with the test protocols developed internally to improve product performance. However, all the collected data is mostly for internal use only. We believe it would be beneficial for all PV industry, if collected data was used to accelerate the certification process. Of course, certifying agencies will have to develop the procedure which will allow accepting data prepared by the materials manufacturer. Periodic audits of the facilities will guarantee that the tests are performed according to standard protocols and the instruments are regularly calibrated. Additional tests perhaps will be required to ensure product performance.
For example, backsheets usually tested as free standing sheets. Testing as free standing sheets have several benefits:
Firstly, during Damp Heat and Heat-Freeze-Humidity testing the moisture ingress occurs from both sides and edges, thus making the test more aggressive.
Secondly, it allows monitoring changes in mechanical properties of the materials as a function of aging time.
However, testing backsheets as a part of vacuum laminated package will provide more information about other important properties. This will allow verifying adhesion to the encapsulant followed by monitoring adhesion during accelerated aging, thermal and dimensional stability of the backsheet during vacuum lamination process as well as backsheet compatibility with module components.
We can see several opportunities for communication and collaboration with module makers, which include developing new materials in collaboration with module makers. Secondly, in collaboration with module makers, testing materials components and thirdly working gain acceptance of generated data by the certifying agencies.
Harmony between certifying agencies
There are several certifying agencies in different parts of the world. Despite the fact that there are established UL and IEC certifying documents, each certifying agency has specific requirements. We respect everyone’s opinion, as we believe that the ultimate goal of each certifying agency is a concern about safety and performance of the solar panel. We appreciate this concern. However, it would be beneficial if all certifying agencies followed the requirements outlined in the approved documents. If the certifying agency has a reason to believe that additional or different tests are necessary, they need to issue the written document, where all these requirements will be depicted. This will help tremendously to save time and money, as the materials will be developed and tested accordingly.
Thankfully, the need for global standards seems to be realized. The UL is currently leading an effort to unite industry experts, research institutions such as NREL and Fraunhofer, and other certifying agencies to create an outline of global standards. Through our efforts, we may very well soon see a much cleaner, unified path to market for our industry. As a member of this group I am encouraged that global standards are in the future.