Streamlining Due Diligence with the IECRE: Page 2 of 3
Inside this Article
Certification bodies and test labs also benefit from uniform application of the IEC standards, including those listed in Table 2. Participating countries and certification bodies mutually accept test results and certificates; that reciprocity is a fundamental principle of the IECRE. A peer assessment process ensures uniform application of the requirements for certification. Internationally standardized procedures not only facilitate agreement between stakeholders but also provide a system to resolve conflict. Process standardization simplifies contract writing.
A good quality management system such as the IECRE is especially critical in a market that is characterized by tight margins and intense price competition. The industry relies on effective international quality assurance to avoid quality control failures. Widespread failures could have persistent consequences, such as higher customer acquisition and insurance costs or loss of public and government support.
Finally, effective quality assurance increases energy production. TÜV Rheinland estimates that a 1% increase in energy production produces a fringe benefit of roughly $5 million per 100 MW of PV capacity. To put these potential benefits in perspective, the US installed nearly 15 GW of PV in 2016, bringing its total capacity to more than 40 GW. Since improved quality assurance also reduces the time and material costs associated with repairs, replacements and recalls, the potential industry-wide savings are even greater.
The IECRE for the solar sector includes a currently available comprehensive set of certifications covering parameters including component quality and annual plant performance. Other certifications are still in draft form or under development.
Component quality. In January 2016, the IEC published the first edition of a technical specification, IEC TS 62941, that provides guidelines for increasing confidence in PV module design qualification and type approval. To guide the review process for PV factory audits and manufacturing quality system certification, the IECRE includes a 3-part operational document, OD-405, for manufacturers and auditors. In effect, IEC TS 62941 establishes technical design engineering and quality management standards, and OD-405 clarifies how to implement them.
Manufacturing facilities qualified to IECRE standards need to demonstrate good quality control. To do so, they must use recognized methodologies, such as statistical process control, and failure mode and effects analysis. These methodologies use monitoring and measurement throughout the manufacturing process to ensure consistent quality during mass production. Process monitoring is critical because a change in materials could cause field problems that, while not apparent at first, appear years later. IECRE-certified factories are also required to have a materials quality assurance plan in place to control for contamination and ensure that materials and components consistently meet specifications.
Since electrostatic discharge causes bypass diode failures, industry stakeholders added a control for electrostatic discharge to IEC 62941. The technical specification also includes steps to verify the proper use of performance measurement equipment so that manufacturers label and bin accurately. These steps include regular calibration of solar simulators and temperature control of the module during measurement. Traceability requirements in the technical standard call for manufacturers to inform customers of a defective product. The ability to track production time or manufacturing lots also enhances continual improvement from field performance, another certification requirement. Feedback can facilitate design improvements, a reduction in manufacturing variability or both.
The IECRE includes training materials for auditors to ensure that audits to IEC 62941 are implemented consistently. Without certification, it is unclear whether factory auditors are capable of accurately auditing module-manufacturing facilities. IECRE certification combined with peer reviews can ensure consistent factory audits internationally.
PV project completion. In June 2017, the IEC approved the publication of the first edition of a technical specification, IEC TS 63049, that provides quality assurance guidelines for PV system installation and O&M. The IECRE includes an operational document, OD-401, which defines how to implement IEC TS 63049 and more than a dozen other IEC standards to verify that a PV system is deployed as originally designed and is ready for operation. Reviewing the specifics of each PV plant as outlined in OD-401 effectively ensures that project stakeholders meet the quality assurance and continual review requirements in the installation and O&M technical specification.
The influx of new workers to the rapidly growing solar sector presents a challenge in terms of maintaining both safety and quality assurance standards. Therefore, the IECRE mandates installer training and continual monitoring. This is an important quality assurance step, as TÜV Rheinland estimates that roughly 50% of PV plant defects are incurred during the installation process.