Non-Standardized Testing In a Highly-Standardized Industry

How can non-standardized testing have a role in the Solar/PV industry?

19 August 2013

It must sound crazy to people that I'm talking about non-Standardized testing, especially when I work for a company that makes money from testing products to existing standards. Well, there's a time and place for everything, and the Solar industry can't escape that truism. I'll explain.

Standards-based testing definitely has a role in the Solar world, especially when testing for electrical safety. In fact it continues to be a regulatory requirement in most global markets that PV modules comply with local safety standards such as UL 1703, IEC 61215, etc. 

But what happens beyond safety? What about critical market-driven factors such as quality, reliability, and overall performance? Today, solar technologies such as bi-facial modules and equipment that uses holographic films are quickly outpacing standards development and testing protocols – not to mention some of the equipment used to conduct the tests. We therefore need to look at non-standardized testing so that a manufacturer, a buyer, or a financier can see exactly what they're getting. 

It's fair to say that right now all Solar manufacturers are conducting some form of testing, but it's to a varying degree. Some are only testing for safety. Some are creating buyer-specific performance test plans. Some are doing region-specific test plans. The best criteria for determining a test plan today is really to study ALL of these potential factors. Consider the worst-case scenarios for environment stress. Consider factory audits to ensure there are no "golden samples" and that all products are consistent. Consider pre-shipment inspections. Consider field test results in addition to lab results. 

The most common Solar questions we hear at Intertek pertain to quality and reliability. And not just this magical "25-year warranty" milestone that was really just marketing based and never built upon engineering judgments. People want to ensure that Solar products will last. They want to get their money's worth out of the product. In 20-25 years the Solar plants may have been bought/sold several times over and it could be someone else's concern then. The initial buyers are looking for short-term ROI. 

Products may pass initial standards-based regulatory tests, but what happens five years down the road when quality falters or there is mechanical failure, and now ROI is on the line? 

This is the type of testing Intertek can help with today. And the potential concerns for buyers and financiers are anything but standard.

Tell me what you think. What other types of non-standardized testing do you predict in the future?

Today’s expert blogger is Sunny Rai, Intertek’s Regional Vice President for Renewable Energy. Sunny provides strategic direction for Intertek’s photovoltaic, wind, smart grid and semiconductor businesses. He is based in our Menlo Park, CA laboratory, but you may find him speaking at industry events and conferences around the world.