This post is about the quality and certification of solar products.
I’ve had the opportunity to work in the highly regulated and quality-controlled world of the aerospace industry. In this industry, the FAA keeps close tabs on everything that goes into an airplane (rightfully so as there are huge liabilities as a failed part caused a plane to crash!). The regulation helps to ensure the quality of the airplanes parts.
Now, when I say regulation, what I’m referring to is a vast network of strict requirements for each product. Each product must adhere precisely to these specifications before it is allowed to be put in an airplane. This includes things like size, workmanship, material, performance… and the list goes on and on.
Now how does this relate to the solar industry? Compared to aerospace, the solar industry is still in its infancy. But, there are still a ton of independent regulators ensuring the quality of solar products, namely SRCC (Solar Rating & Certification Corporation). A comprehensive list of certifying agencies can be seen here: http://www.solarbuzz.com/ProductCertifications.htm
So, what do these certification mean? Some certifications like ISO attempt to assure that your manufacturing processes do not give room for production errors. Others agencies ensure the safety and usefulness of the product.
Let’s take a solar panel mounting system on the roof of a house.
Without knowing much about the product, we could still venture a guess at some of the requirements. The mounting system has to:
- Be resistant to severe weather
- Attach to a roof and prevent the solar panels from slipping
- Be the correct size to hold the solar panel, while being unobtrusive to sunlight
- Have durability to last the length of a solar panel warranty (>20 years)
In order to be certified by the particular agency, the mounting system manufacturer may have to perform tests on their product to prove they pass the requirements. For instance if a manufacturer wishes to prove its mounting system is “resistant to severe weather”, it may have to pass the following environmental tests (these are not actual requirements; they are just an educated guess as to what a mounting system manufacturer might have to prove):
- Hot and Cold Temperature Cycling
- Severe Rain and Wind Tests
- Golf-Ball Sized Hail
- Lightning Strikes
If you don’t think Golf-Ball Sized Hail should be a test, take a look at this video (fast-forward to 1:30).
The bottom line is that these tests are necessary, but can be very expensive (another cost delivered down to the consumer). How does one reduce these testing costs? I’ll save this for another post in the near future.