NREL helps establish new quality standards for PV modules

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

PV module manufacturers will use the new standard to increase the level of confidence investors, utilities, and consumers have in solar panel safety and reliability, which in turn should lower the cost of financing for solar projects.

Working with partners around the world, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have completed five years of work toward helping establish an international quality standard for manufacturing photovoltaic (PV) modules.

PV manufacturers will use the new standard to increase the level of confidence investors, utilities, and consumers have in solar panel safety and reliability, which in turn should lower the cost of financing for solar projects.  

The standard supplements the existing ISO-9001 and was jointly developed by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International PV Quality Assurance Task Force (PVQAT). The task force was formed in 2011 to accelerate the IEC's development of standards by writing initial drafts and coordinating research to provide the technical basis for new standards. The new standard appears in "Terrestrial Photovoltaic (PV) Modules - Guidelines for increased confidence in PV module design qualification and type approval."

The PV industry has grown by a factor of about 500 over the past two decades. With customers worldwide now investing approximately $100 billion in PV annually, the international solar community is driven to maintain the quality of that investment. To this end, NREL, along with other international groups, has spearheaded the PVQAT to establish guidelines that cover:

  • How to test PV modules for adequate durability for the chosen climate zone and mounting configuration;
  • How to ensure consistent manufacturing of the durable design (the topic of IEC 62941); and
  • How to ensure the final system is fully functional.

Primary contributions to this work came from Govind Ramu (SunPower), Yoshihito Eguchi (Mitsui Chemical), George Kelly (Sunset Technology), Masaaki Yamamichi (AIST), Wei Zhou (Trina Solar), Sumanth Lokanath (First Solar), and Sarah Kurtz (NREL). These and others co-authored a technical report detailing the requirements, "Updated Proposal for a Guide for Quality Management Systems for PV Manufacturing: Supplemental Requirements to ISO 9001-2008."

The PVQAT effort is closely coordinated with the IEC, which uses a formal process to refine and define the final documents. The new standards detail how manufacturers must:

  • Consider potential failure modes and take steps to address those in the design, production, application, and delivery process.
  • Obtain IEC certification and implement an ongoing reliability test program that monitors the performance of PV modules.
  • Improve product traceability through the entire supply chain in the case of recalls or warranty claims.

Pass-fail requirements, a checklist, and guidance on how factory audits are completed have been drafted and are in the process of being adopted to help ensure consistent implementation of the new standards, known as IEC 62941.

NREL's support of PVQAT is funded by the Energy Department's SunShot Initiative, which is a national effort to make solar energy cost-competitive with traditional energy sources by the end of the decade. Through SunShot, the Energy Department supports private companies, universities, and national laboratories working to drive down the unsubsidized price of utility-scale solar electricity to six cents a kilowatt-hour. 

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for the Energy Department by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

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