Streamlining Due Diligence with the IECRE
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Imagine that your task is to determine the insurance rate for lifetime coverage on a PV plant. It is easy enough to predict the lifetime of a PV module as 25 years with an indicated uncertainty of plus or minus 25 years. Unfortunately, it is considerably more difficult to predict the lifetime of a PV power plant with a small amount of uncertainty. The latter is the type of prediction that the investment community and other stakeholder groups require to have confidence that a PV asset will deliver an anticipated return on investment.
The consensus among industry stakeholders is that a module design qualification standard alone is not adequate to provide this level of confidence. Instead, stakeholders require quality assurance standards at every step along the value chain: for the materials used in manufacturing; module design; manufacturing process control; equipment selection for the specific climate and installation conditions; system design; shipping, handling and installation; and, finally, O&M after deployment. This requires a comprehensive approach to quality assurance.
The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is the world’s leading organization providing international standards for devices that use or produce electricity. To assure quality in emergent renewable energy sectors, the IEC developed and launched a comprehensive certification system known as the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Renewable Energy Applications or more simply the IECRE.
Founded in 2014, the IECRE covers wind energy, marine energy and solar photovoltaic energy sectors. It aims to improve these industry sectors by facilitating the international trade of equipment and services while maintaining high standards of safety and quality. To this end, IEC Technical Committee 82, the working group responsible for PV energy systems, publishes standards that relate to all the elements making up PV systems, and the IECRE incorporates these standards and defines how to implement them.
Since comprehensive quality assurance is complex and requires numerous steps, the IECRE addresses every stage of development in PV power plants, as shown in Table 1. The goal of the IECRE is to develop an efficient, effective and widely adopted quality assurance system, capable of meeting the needs of nations that wish to participate as well as those of national, regional and local organizations.
Benefits of the IECRE. Though independent engineers and other stakeholders are adept at doing due diligence, the IECRE can improve this process by eliminating redundancies. PV projects typically have multiple stakeholders, including manufacturers, engineers, investors and insurers. Often each of these parties has a different protocol for quality assurance, which can create testing redundancies that add costs without providing meaningful benefits.
Standardization not only streamlines the due diligence process, saving time and expense, but also improves practices across the industry by leveraging the extensive international experience available today. The IECRE leverages the experience of the industry and incorporates the practices that experts have identified as most useful. The transfer of scientific and industry expertise facilitates the training of designers, installers and maintenance personnel. The IECRE also implements continual improvement processes that enhance learning and allow manufacturers to change technologies and adapt manufacturing techniques over time without sacrificing quality.
In addition to setting a high bar for quality, the IECRE aims to reduce costs by increasing stakeholder confidence. When system damage occurs, for example, a universally accepted certification of quality and project condition can reduce conflict over its source. Imagine that a Level 4 hurricane has hit a PV power plant, leading to discussions about the extent of the weather-related damages. The insurer might question whether subtle damages, such as cracked cells or hot spots, occurred during the hurricane or during manufacturing, shipping or installation. Using the IECRE certification process to thoroughly document quality and condition over time—from point of manufacturing to time of commissioning and annually thereafter—can provide stakeholders with the information necessary to identify the cause of damage and the responsible party.