Understanding Standards, Guideline and Codes Impacting Solar Power Equipment Industry
Experts from TÜV Rheinland cover the basics for solar equipment and component manufacturers who must comply with the regulations.
Experts from TÜV Rheinland, which certifies many of the processes used to build and install electronic equipment, discussed segments of this vast regulatory environment in a Webinar entitled “Solar Energy Technologies: Insights to Regulatory Requirements.” They opened by explaining why the many rules and regulations were written.
One is that solar systems can be difficult to understand and compare. Beyond the differences from one type of solar panel to another, there are many variables that will impact the performance of solar installations in the field, said Richard Bozicevich, vice president of business development at TÜV.
Output will vary given the varying levels of irradiance, or sunlight hitting the panel, as well as by the ambient temperature. Factors such as mechanical stress cause by wind rain and hail will impact product lifetimes.
These variants make it important for the industry to establish standards that will help customers make decisions about the best equipment for their environment and applications. What works well for a solar farm in Arizona may not be optimal for a housing complex installation in Minnesota.
The U.S. Dept. of Energy has initiated a number of standards designed to help ensure that ratings from different manufacturers are consistent. They address factors as diverse as system energy performance and certifying the accuracy of inverter meters.
Once buyers make some of these basic decisions on the equipment they want, they will enter a world that’s heavily controlled by regulations and codes. Safety is an overriding concern, since output from solar systems can impact the utility grids that power an entire region. Regulations also help ensure that fires and other problems won’t occur at the site.
Myriad problems can occur in the field. Arcing is a major concern, as it is with any system that involves high voltages and currents. Junction box cracking, short circuits and detached cables are additional problems that can cause failures and safety issues.
Bozicevich explained that five major standards form the basis for many of the regulations that govern equipment design and manufacture. In North America, safety is governed by an international standard, IEC61730, and a domestic specification, UL 1703. Quality is dominated by three international standards, IEC 61215, 61646 and 62108.
Compliance with these standards requires multi-step processes that must be performed continuously. Many of them are fairly complex, with more than a 100 tests needed for compliance. Total test time can take over an hour. The tests are often designed to examine a dozen or so modules simultaneously.
National Fire Safety Guidelines also come into play. They dictate features that will improve safety over the lifetime of the product.
After equipment made to comply with these standards is sold, the focus shifts to the codes that govern installations. The National Electric Code is widely used, but it’s not mandatory throughout the U.S., said Jonathan Kotrba, director of commercial services at TÜV. That means that most installations will need to comply with regional codes. He added that installers must ensure that they have equipment that’s been approved.
“If you get into a situation where evaluations in the field need to look at the component level, costs will explode,” Kotrba says. “You’ll be better off replacing those components.
Many different components must comply with codes that govern field evaluations. Cables for batteries must typically be specified at 125% of the projected loads, and grounding structures must also meet codes that include many other mechanical components such as mounting towers.
Conductors are an area that’s often overlooked, which can lead to serious problems while also degrading efficiency even when no problems arise. Ensuring that all cables and conductors meet requirements and codes will play a big role in long-term reliability, Kotrba added.
While much of the Webinar focuses on the U.S. market, Kotrba addressed the Canadian market, which is seeing solid growth, particularly in Ontario. The Electrical Safety Authority is the group that has the most oversight in solar installations. Unlike the U.S., regulations set by the ESA can’t be overruled by regional authorities.
The UL 1703 standard provides the guideline for safety, but inspection to Canadian standards must still be performed.
For more detailed information, please click here to view the webinar.
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