Safety and performance assurances are key to solar PV investments

Certification to IEC international standards instills confidence

By Thomas Sauer, Convenor WG 004 and WG 404, IECRE

A significant number of solar photovoltaic (PV) power plants underperform for various reasons, including deterioration, or to the point that the financial viability of the PV power plant is at stake.

Solar PV load testing PV load testing simulates heavy snow which can accumulate on a sloping roof (Photo: TÜV Rheinland)

Performance risks are everywhere. Prevalent causes for defects are related to production of components and installation, while operations and maintenance play a significant role when it comes to performance losses. Hence, issues involving performance and/or safety can occur anytime from inception through to decommissioning.

As part of overall PV power plant project due diligence, the financial sector currently bases its investment decisions and lending commitments etc., on technical assessment reports.

Answering the need for a global certification system

Until a few years ago, no encompassing international standards existed for quality assurance or assessment reports. Depending on the assessor, these reports could vary significantly in terms of thoroughness, accurateness, completeness, reliability, validity and, transparency. This led to two possibilities:

  • Quality assurance measures were not necessarily sufficient to ensure that the planned performance would actually materialize over the typical planning timeframe of 20 or more years.
  • The diversity of technical assessment reports (lacking any standards) resulted in a high workload for investors, such as banks, and more importantly, in uncertainties around evaluating the true risk exposure of a PV power plant project.

IECRE is established

This status quo motivated IEC member bodies to establish IECRE, the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for use in Renewable Energy applications. It covers the marine, solar PV and wind energy sectors, and uses IEC International Standards developed by the technical committees for these.

IECRE certification, offers a common platform on a systems level for quality assurance, which enables fair and efficient competition. Under the System, the entire lifecycle of a PV power plant can be certified, from initial design aspects to annual inspections and ultimately asset transfer.

The potential for a rating system

Currently, IECRE is considering the development of a technical rating system for PV power plants. This follows the analysis of several thousand insurance claim cases, which revealed that internally caused damage represents approximately 20% of all claim cases and equally importantly, the amount of internally induced damages significantly increases with the service life of a PV power plant.

LCOE is the measure of a power source that allows comparison of different methods of electricity generation on a consistent basis. The continued reduction of LCOE seems to be ongoing and may be a cause of a growing number of quality issues in the field. The only viable way to ensure successful business for all stakeholders at such levels of LCOE, is to continue reducing actual costs, while simultaneously implementing effective quality assurance practices.

A key point in the race to drive cost down at acceptable quality levels is to establish standards that are valid across the industry, including quality assurance and conformity assessment standards. IECRE tests and certifies renewable energy equipment against IEC International Standards. The addition of a rating system could help assess the risk exposure, which goes along with PV power plant investments, in a more effective and uniform way.

Find out more about IECRE.

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Load testing_PV PV load testing simulates heavy snow which can accumulate on a sloping roof (Photo: TÜV Rheinland)
Thomas Sauer, Convenor WG 004 and WG 404, IECRE Thomas Sauer, Convenor WG 004 and WG 404, IECRE