29 June 2011
Competition abounds between photovoltaic manufacturers hoping to find and market the next best product that are most cost effective and that offer the greatest energy output. An integral part of this process is obtaining the mandatory electrical safety requirements, an often costly task.
As PV technology progresses, however, certification agencies are expanding their services and expertise to serve the growing demand for all-inclusive safety, performance and reliability testing and certification. In this first article in a two-part series, we take a look at required testing in different parts of the world. Part 2 will look at how PV manufacturers can go a few steps beyond and test for safety, performance and more.
Required testing and certification
In North America, photovoltaic products are required to be tested and certified by a Nationally Recognized Test Laboratory (NRTL) in the US and a Standard Council of Canada (SCC) accredited Testing Organization (TO) and Certification Body (CB) in Canada. A full list of NRTLs is available here. Products tested by a NRTL that are qualified to meet the required standards are eligible to bear a recognized certification mark.
These are samples of common North American certification marks where the “c” indicates that Canadian requirements are met and the “us’ indicates that the US requirements are met. From left to right: CSA safety mark, ETL-Intertek safety mark, TUV safety mark, UL safety mark.
In Europe and other countries around the world, photovoltaic products must meet the requirements of the IECEE (International Electrotechnical Commission for Electrical Equipment) Certification Scheme which include the IEC standards for the safety and performance of PV products. In order to meet the IEC requirements, products must be tested at and certified by an IEC accredited Certification Body Testing Laboratory (CBTL), The CB test report from IEC certification is often used by certification agencies to help manufacturers gain entry to multiple markets such as Japan, India, Australia and many others. In Europe, products also must meet the applicable requirements of the European Directives to bear the CE marking.
Samples of marks in found in Europe for various testing and certification services. From left to right: CE marking, ETL-Intertek safety mark, Microgeneration certification mark for the UK, VDE safety mark and TUV safety mark.
Global certification marks
Over the last decade as the movement toward international standards acceptance has expanded with the IECEE Scheme, organizations that provide certification services have been able to offer greater value to their customers by helping them obtain global certification marks with a qualified IEC Test Report (TR). This service has helped manufacturers of solar energy equipment streamline their testing and certification and reduce the amount of testing required, allowing products to get to market faster and reduce the costs associated with performing multiple testing.
Several years ago, the majority of the testing for IEC certification was highly focused on the European market where many PV and renewable rebate programs helped spur an upswing of solar power generation activity. Today, the European market maintains a growth trend in solar energy, however, opportunities abound for manufacturers of photovoltaic products and systems selling into the Asia-Pacific markets like Japan. The recent impact of the nuclear crisis in Japan caused by the March 2011 earthquake has influenced the Japanese government to support rapid growth of the renewable energy industry.
In each market, IEC certification forms a good foundation to which national deviations are then applied. In North America, where the market continues to experience strong growth, IEC certification helps reduce the required testing for NRTL certification. However the requirements of UL1703 and UL/ORD1703 in the US and Canada must be met in order to sell products into North America and qualify for available rebates.
Part 2 of this article can be read here: PV Testing and Certification: The next step.
About the author
Sunny Rai is Business Line Director of Photovoltaic Products at Intertek.
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