SERC’s Off-grid Solar Testing Laboratory Gains International Recognition

ANAB-Test-Lab-2CSERC recently became accredited under ISO/IEC 17025, the single most important standard for testing laboratories around the world. This accreditation recognizes SERC’s technical competence to perform laboratory testing and produce precise and accurate test results. Specifically, SERC is accredited to carry out electrical and photometric testing of off-grid solar lighting products. This accreditation may be expanded in the future to include off-grid solar home systems and other technologies.

SERC leads the World Bank Group’s Lighting Global Quality Assurance program for off-grid solar lighting products, and tests dozens of these products each year. This new accreditation enables our test results for quality-assured, off-grid solar lighting products to be recognized by governments around the world, easing the importation of these products into countries that greatly need them. This in turn will increase access to these products for the many people in developing countries who currently rely on dangerous, unhealthy, expensive and dim kerosene lighting.

To become accredited under ISO/IEC 17025, we undertook a six-month process to formalize and update our laboratory quality management system. This included putting comprehensive policies and procedures and rigorous quality control practices in place, and training staff to follow these. All of our relevant equipment was also sent for calibration to ISO/IEC 17025 accredited laboratories to ensure that we produce the most precise and accurate results possible.

SERC was then assessed by ANAB, our ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation body. For two days in December, a visiting assessor audited our policies and procedures and witnessed testing conducted by SERC staff. After the visit, the assessor provided us with a list of non-conformities to the ISO/IEC 17025 standard, which we quickly addressed. As a result, our accreditation certificate was issued on January 8, adding SERC to the ranks of internationally recognized test laboratories.

Lighting Global Program Expands to Solar Home System Kits

Since 2008, we at SERC have worked with the Lighting Africa and Lighting Global programs to support the development of the off-grid lighting market. We currently manage the quality assurance program that has tested over 130 pico-solar lighting products, ranging from flashlights to lanterns to multi-light systems, from over 40 different manufacturers.

The Lighting Africa program has been a great success, with nearly eight million quality-verified pico-solar lights having been sold throughout Africa as of December 2014. This has inspired expansion of the effort to India and beyond through the Lighting Asia and Lighting Pacific programs. Bolstered by this success, the Lighting Global program is now focusing further along the electricity access continuum to support products that provide a wider range of energy services, beyond lighting and cellphone charging.

The decreasing costs of solar PV modules, rechargeable batteries, and LEDs have facilitated the development of larger plug-and-play solar home system kits at prices affordable to many in the off-grid market. Additionally, recent efficiency gains in DC appliances, such as reducing the power draw for a 20” color TV from over 20 W to less than 10 W, make it possible to power appliances with lower-cost solar home system kits. In response to these market trends and industry demands, the Africa Renewable Energy Access Program at the World Bank has tasked our team at SERC with expanding the existing test methods and quality assurance framework to cover these larger solar home system kits.

Plug-and-play solar home system kits can provide power for multiple appliances, such as lights, mobile phones, TVs and fans. The systems are often sold as complete kits (solar module, charge controller/battery box, lights and appliances) that can be assembled by the user. (Image credit Meg Harper and Peter Alstone).

Plug-and-play solar home system kits can provide power for multiple appliances, such as lights, mobile phones, TVs and fans. The systems are often sold as complete kits (solar module, charge controller/battery box, lights and appliances) that can be assembled by the user. (Image credit Meg Harper and Peter Alstone).

The systems covered by this extension will be plug-and-play direct current (DC) solar home system kits that can be installed by typical homeowners without the need to employ a technician. While products and kits with a peak power rating of less than 10 W are tested under the current quality assurance framework, the revised framework will cover kits from 10 W up to 100 W.

Over the past year, our team has worked with researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute of Solar Energy Systems (ISE) to develop a modified version of the existing quality assurance framework for larger kits. Both of our teams are committed to using the same set of principles to balance affordability, innovation, and rigor in developing standards and test methods for the solar home system market.

SERC team members Tom Quetchenbach, Meg Harper, Kristen Radecsky, and Arne Jacobson with Fraunhofer ISE team members Martin Jantsch, Georg Bopp, Norbert Pfanner, and Friedemar Schreiber.

SERC team members Tom Quetchenbach, Meg Harper, Kristen Radecsky, and Arne Jacobson with Fraunhofer ISE team members Martin Jantsch, Georg Bopp, Norbert Pfanner, and Friedemar Schreiber.

To push forward on the development of the framework, members of the SERC team recently traveled to Freiburg, Germany to meet with our colleagues at Fraunhofer ISE.  We spent a week meeting and working with the team in Germany, and tackled some of the more difficult issues in the quality assurance framework, such as how to reliably measure system performance and assess appliances that are included with the kits.

We are currently pilot testing this extended framework on five solar home system kits and plan to test five more in the coming months. Once we have finalized the test methods, we will submit them for adoption by the International Electrotechnical Commission. Throughout the process, we are relying on stakeholder consultations with manufacturers, development organizations, test labs, the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association, financial institutions and others to improve the quality assurance framework.

If you are interested in our continued progress on this project, contact us at shs@lightingglobal.org, or visit the Lighting Global stakeholder page.

Lighting Lab Update

TERI-opening

Director Arne Jacobson at the TERI grand opening in March. Photo credit Sanjay Kumar.

The Solar Lighting Laboratory of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, India is open and ready for business.  Last year, SERC director Arne Jacobson and I traveled to New Delhi to complete a hands-on training for the Solar Lighting Laboratory and have since evaluated the laboratory’s work testing off-grid lighting products. Through SERC’s support and the Solar Lighting Laboratory’s hard work, TERI has established the first Asian laboratory within the Lighting Global Quality Assurance Program test laboratory network.

TERI’s Solar Lighting Laboratory will be evaluating off-grid lighting products using the International Electrotechnical Commission’s standard TS 62257-9-5. The test methods verify products by checking product ratings; measuring key product parameters such as daily hours of operation, lighting output, and solar power production; and evaluating parameters related to product durability such as LED life, shock resistance, and workmanship of electrical and mechanical parts.

In other news, in response to demand from the off-grid lighting market, the Lighting Global program has decided to extend the existing quality assurance framework to include larger solar home system kits. Compared to the lighting products we currently test, these plug-and-play direct current kits can provide more power for lighting as well as other uses, such as mobile phone charging, radios, fans and even TVs. Over the next two years, SERC will partner with the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems to adapt existing test methods and standards to reliably assess and report the quality of these larger systems.

While expanding our scope, we are also working with our wide range of stakeholders to refine our current test procedures and ensure a reliable and rigorous quality assurance framework that can be sustained for years into the future. As part of this process, Arne and other team members presented to stakeholders at the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association quality assurance symposium in Cologne, Germany in April.

We also remain committed to better promoting and communicating information about the products that have met our Quality Standards in the off-grid lighting market. As part of this ongoing effort, we have re-designed the Lighting Global website to enable interested parties to more easily view and compare 48 solar lighting products produced by over 20 different manufacturers that have met the Lighting Global Minimum Quality Standards.

Solar Photovoltaics and Energy Yield

Article written by Arne Jacobson and Stephen Kullmann

pv testing array

Energy Yield Test Array at Humboldt State University. The energy yield study involves detailed measurements of the performance of amorphous silicon and crystalline silicon PV modules. (Photo Credit Arne Jacobson)

Thin film solar photovoltaic (PV) modules are emerging as a lower cost alternative to the more conventional crystalline silicon (c-Si) PV modules. Amorphous silicon (a-Si) PV is the most mature of the thin film technologies and worldwide, a-Si modules make up approximately 15% of total solar PV sales. In some developing country markets, a-Si PV has become the dominant technology.

The growing use of amorphous silicon PV technology has led to a controversy about solar PV module performance ratings. The debate is related to the relative performance of c-Si and a-Si PV technologies. Manufacturers of a-Si modules claim that their products produce 10-15% more electrical energy per rated Watt of power output than c-Si technology. The reason for the variation, the theory goes, is related to the differential influence that real world weather conditions such as temperature have on the performance of the respective module types. With this in mind, a-Si PV manufacturers say that they should be allowed to adjust their power ratings to account for this extra energy production. Manufacturers of c-Si modules dispute this claim.

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Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency in Kenya

Article written by Arne Jacobson

Arne Jacobson with WLED product

Arne Jacobson of SERC helps Daniel Buyu of Yala, Kenya troubleshoot a problem with an LED flashlight. (Photo credit Evan Mills)

Kenya is a world leader, on a per capita basis, in the utilization of solar photovoltaic systems. Solar power provides the main source of electricity for more than 5% of Kenya’s rural population, and sales of solar products in Kenya continue to grow.

Although these high use levels indicate a robust renewable energy sector, quality issues have long been a concern in the Kenya solar market. As is true in many Sub Saharan African countries, market institutions for ensuring quality are weak in Kenya. As a result, while most solar products sold in the country perform adequately, some of the products sold in the market perform well below advertised levels. This persistent presence of low quality goods is a problem not only for rural Kenyans unlucky enough to purchase the “wrong” PV module or battery, but also for the reputation of the solar industry.

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