At Intersolar Europe 2012, TÜV Rheinland, the world’s leading testing service provider for the solar industry, will present a wide range of services for independently testing the quality and safety of components, modules and solar systems. The company will focus on new testing programmes for photovoltaic modules with specific requirements as well as diverse services for supporting investors and project management organisations in planning and operating major power plants. The key word? Bankability. Jörg Althaus, Head of Solar Energy at TÜV Rheinland in Germany, explains: “Around the globe, the solar industry is currently undergoing very rapid change. This is primarily due to two factors: the way that technical innovations are driving the development of the industry, and altered general conditions in key manufacturer and customer markets.” The uncertainty amongst investors and customers is clear to see, making the search for reliable information – including technical data – and orientation very pronounced. Consequently, “companies within the industry want to use the unique selling points of their products to take an even more offensive stance against the competition.”
TÜV Rheinland encounters these trends in its international network of experts, which encompasses seven test centers and around 300 employees worldwide, through the continuous adaptation and redevelopment of testing services. At Intersolar 2012, TÜV Rheinland will demonstrate special test requirements for photovoltaic modules that depend on where they are used. Module testing includes salt spray tests for modules installed in coastal regions and ammonia tests for photovoltaic modules on agricultural buildings and areas. In addition, there are various snow load tests and the initial criteria of a testing programme for modules to be used specifically in deserts. Jörg Althaus has the following to say: “The standard all-purpose module is being increasingly replaced. Even now, numerous manufacturers are taking great leaps forward in the technical specialization of their products. In this respect, innovation knows no bounds.”
TÜV Rheinland supports the development of building-integrated photovoltaic modules (BIPV) – be it on the roof or in the facade. Here, the specialists play a key role in developing appropriate standards and drafting “EN 50XXX Photovoltaics in Buildings”. As part of a global competence center for BIPV at TÜV Rheinland, experts are working on test scenarios such as impermeability in driving rain, sound protection, fire prevention and thermal insulation. New testing capacities are also being set up for concentrated photovoltaic modules (CPV).
New and enhanced quality tests: tougher than the industry standard
In the past few months, TÜV Rheinland has also adapted test programs for modules and, focusing on general quality testing, developed new services that go far beyond the basic design certifications in accordance with IEC 61215 or IEC 61646. In this way, TÜV Rheinland, the only testing service provider in Asia, has made the transition to performing regular, often unannounced, production inspections when certifying the designs of new manufacturers. Modules for laboratory tests are also taken from production by TÜV Rheinland rather than being provided by the manufacturer, as set out in the test standards. Jörg Althaus explains: “Our goal is to actively balance out weaknesses in the standards valid worldwide. Customers must be safe in the knowledge that our neutral test mark really does stand for basic quality and safety requirements.”This objective is underpinned by tough test programs such as the PV+ test established on the German market and other extended tests. In long-term sequential testing, for example, modules undergo a marathon of laboratory-based tests lasting around nine months. These include various climate chamber tests with extreme temperature fluctuations and high air humidity levels. TÜV Rheinland conducts the combined heat/moisture test during long-term sequential testing in 250-hour cycles totaling 2,000 hours – twice as intensive as stipulated in the IEC standards.
The PV+ test from TÜV Rheinland and Solarpraxis AG is a comparison test that aims to identify the optimum solar module that will actually deliver the performance level estimated in the ROI. Various manufacturers are currently represented in this test with nine modules. Several other modules are being tested at present. TÜV Rheinland and Solarpraxis buy the modules for the test anonymously in
normal retail outlets and then put them through many months of tests at TÜV Rheinland’s laboratory in Cologne.
The essential elements of the test are durability, electrical safety, workmanship, documentation and installation guidelines, ease of assembly and warranty. It also includes a mechanical stress test (up to a maximum of 540 kilograms per square meter) that simulates heavy snow loads, for example, with power output measured at regular intervals. Damage to the modules is revealed by, among other things, various insulation tests, including those conducted in wet conditions, and electroluminescence – a method that, as in x-rays, shows exactly where solar cells have incurred even the most minor damage or identifies individual cells that no longer perform as they should.
Power Controlled: reliable module performance
The “Power Controlled" test seal is established on the market as another formidable quality test from TÜV Rheinland. In “Power Controlled”, the manufacturer’s production and products are checked impartially by TÜV Rheinland in a continuous testing process to see whether they perform as promised by the manufacturer. The aim is to create great performance reliability, which means revenue reliability. In the first stage, TÜV Rheinland specialists perform annual on-site checks at the respective manufacturer to determine whether the quality requirements for measuring the power output of the modules are met during production. In the second stage, the power output of the manufactured modules themselves is tested. To do so, the experts from TÜV Rheinland take randomly selected solar modules directly from production – and this happens once a quarter.
TÜV Rheinland offers such tests, as well as overall component- and module testing, for manufacturers around the globe. Its global network with corresponding accreditations enables TÜV Rheinland to offer companies in the solar industry certifications for all relevant target markets from a single source. These are in addition to tests developed by TÜV Rheinland for IEC standards as well as, for example, tests in accordance with ANSI/UL 1703, MCS particularly for the British market, CAN for the Canadian market or Golden Sun for China.
Testing and certifying major power plants worldwide: bankability is the goal
TÜV Rheinland accompanies projects internationally, assuring the quality of major photovoltaic power plants. Wilhelm Vaaßen, Head of Solar Energies at TÜV Rheinland in Germany, states: “The aim is to ensure bankability and increase cost efficiency.” According to assessments by industry experts, banks and investors in particular are likely to be stricter with the requirements for major projects. “On the one hand, construction and system costs drop. On the other hand, there is a justifiable trend towards larger plants, as investors hope to benefit from these in the form of even lower costs per kilowatt. This attractive market trend must not lead to a situation where project planners and investors conceal potential risks, or this will lead to a dramatic failure to achieve output expectations.” Drawing on the experiences of TÜV Rheinland’s specialists, some of the greatest operational failure risks include overvoltage, planning errors, glass breakage and weather-related damage, such as due to storms or heavy snow. Reductions in output during operation can also be caused by the actual output deviating from the rated output.
TÜV Rheinland's international team supports investors and project partners not only when selecting components and suitable modules, but also at all stages of planning and implementing large-scale power plants throughout the world. These currently include, in particular, power plants with an output of 500 kWp to around 100 MWp in countries such as China, Germany, France, India, Italy, North America, Portugal, Spain and South Korea. The specialists were recently contracted to provide comprehensive support to two power plant constructions in Ukraine.
The large-scale plants supported by TÜV Rheinland around the world include 15 power plants in India alone with up to 50 MWp output, around ten large-scale plants of Wattner AG in Germany with a total output of 118 MWp, and, for example, SunPower’s power plant in Montalto di Castro in Italy with an output of 84 MWp. In Bulgaria, a team from TÜV Rheinland is currently providing technical support for the construction of a plant that will output 64 MWp.