Interview: PV certification in China and quality standards


When and why did TÜV Rheinland decide to offer its services locally in China?

The first stones for TÜV Rheinland’s Photovoltaic laboratory in Shanghai were laid in early 2007. Afterwards in 2009, TÜV Rheinland further opened another photovoltaic laboratory in Taiwan. The reason for setting up these local testing capacities was to better address the needs of the local photovoltaic industry by providing services tailored to the local market with shorter project times, within the same time zone and with the same language spoken. TÜV Rheinland employs approximately 3,000 people in 11 major locations of Greater China, offering testing and certification services.

How well received is a third-party testing and certification body in China?

In the field of photovoltaics, this is very much welcomed. TÜV Rheinland is working with the local industry as well as supporting domestic authorities, not only in creating local photovoltaic standards, but also improving measurement procedures. Just recently, we developed a new procedure for the power measurement of high-capacitance crystalline silicon solar cells with pulsed solar simulators. With this procedure also the power of photovoltaic modules in the production lines can be measured much more accurately, while increasing the confidence in the rated power output both from manufacturer as well as consumer side. TÜV Rheinland is not just a provider of testing and certification services, we are committed to partner with the industry in ensuring quality, raising production standards and improving reliability on component, module and system level.

TÜV Rheinland’s PV experts are cooperating with local enterprises to overcome technical challenges and support further development of PV technologies. Do you also see TÜV’s role in China as a company offering knowledge transfer?

Each market is different, but some of them could be harmonized in accordance with international standards. We offer our services and tests on the basis of the same requirements throughout the world, in adherence to national, as well as international standards and specifications. On the other hand, consumers, companies and governments increasingly expect products to be manufactured, and the necessary raw materials to be obtained, in accordance with high standards. Together with the market, we are developing standards to ensure quality and safety with respect to technology, people and the environment.

China’s PV industry is maturing. Under the country’s Twelfth Five-Year-Plan, favorable government policies have provided support for the use of green energy. At the same time, a rapid decline in the prices of component products and high levels of competition have accelerated the development of the PV market.

How does the cost pressure affect the module quality?

So far we see many new material developments in our lab under testing and prequalification, but it would be difficult to draw any conclusions from current test results regarding module quality development. What we have seen in the past years is that many module manufacturers are much more concerned about quality aspects and the general commitment from the industry is not to jeopardize module quality over prices.

From our side, we are doing our share by increasing frequency of inspections at factories to more than annually and sometimes even unannounced. Besides this, we have started to introduce test sample selection at photovoltaic module manufacturers already some time ago for new factories to avoid that golden samples are submitted to our lab for testing and intend to sharpen and extend such criteria in discussion with the photovoltaic industry up- and down-stream.

While production costs continue to come down, labor is also becoming more expensive in China. Automation can address this development by substituting manual routines with automated processes. Do you regard this as a positive or a negative development with respect to the quality of products?

Here, photovoltaics is no different to other products – it depends a great deal on quality management. At TÜV Rheinland we have been inspecting and auditing module manufacturers in China since 2006 and before. Of course, since then a lot of development in terms of technological advancement has taken place. In general, however, we would conclude that no matter manual or automatic production, the key is a solid quality management that ensures traceable products and production processes.

Banks and investors in Europe look for manufacturers, retailers and designers to take a proactive approach towards the development of quality assurance standards. However, they also have a duty to make their standards transparent. How are quality standards developed in China and who takes the initiative?

Similar to efforts in other countries, in China many big players in the photovoltaics industry are part of developing new standards. But also some Chinese authorities play a major role in driving forward the development of local quality standards. As partner to the industry, TÜV Rheinland involves in relevant discussions and provides its valuable input deriving from its long history in PV sector.

It has been said that companies should offer differentiated products to survive the market consolidation process. How do you deal with an increasing variety of products?

In TÜV Rheinland, we have experts working globally to address the diversification in the photovoltaics industry. This happens, among others, in international as well as national standardization committees, as well as through the many different research projects that TÜV Rheinland takes part in.

What is your service range?

We offer the widest service scope in the PV-field and compliment it with local coverage and assistance in the key international markets through our photovoltaic-lab network. We provide services such as inspections, assessments, testing services along the full value chain from photovoltaic materials/components (both mechanical and electrical) over the whole process of cell production, module assembly to planning, realization and operation of huge power plants or the certification of power plants. We not only engage in the Energy Yield Prediction, but also are hands on in the field identifying any potential threats that could shorten the lifetime of a PV system and have severe impact on the system’s ROI. Besides this, we specifically address consumers and PV bulk buyers with our audit services as well as pre-shipment testing and inspection services.

In which fields of your work do you see the biggest demand

Besides the biggest demand from the industry to survive 2012-2014, to accelerate their international sales, having quick and smooth access to emerging markets and to drive costs down along the whole value chain (including costs for testing, inspection and certification), in order to re-enter the profit zone and to be competitive with other renewable energies, but most important with fossil and nuclear power solutions.

Another big concern coming from the industry is still facing product reliability. On the one hand, we see this as a concern from the consumer, responsibility system operator side regarding the risk for the involved investment; on the other hand, for photovoltaic manufacturers this is a concern regarding potential provisions for warranty complaints. TÜV Rheinland addresses this by offering, for instance, its PV+ test, in the scope of which modules are sampled randomly from the European market and will be subjected to a series of tests, such as climatic endurance tests. Test results are then published and made available to consumers. Other services addressing reliability are Long-term Energy Yield Measurements of PV-modules at different climate conditions, as well as extensive stress tests such as long-term sequential test that follows a new test sequence developed by TÜV Rheinland.

PV Module and PV Power Plant Workshop, China 2012: In collaboration with the Solarpraxis AG, TÜV Rheinland is organizing the first PV Module and PV Power Plant Workshop, China 2012. The event is scheduled to take place on October 30 and 31, 2012, in Shanghai, China. Current issues facing module technology (coverings, metallization and encapsulation), test methods and measurement techniques will be the focus of the first day. Meanwhile, the second day will address quality assurance, testing and certification of PV modules.

Edited by Becky Beetz.

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