Every second, the earth's surface receives roughly as much energy from the sun as it would take to satisfy the energy needs of all of humankind for half a day. If researchers could succeed in harnessing this enormous potential effectively and at a reasonable cost, our energy problems would be solved. To this end, the many facets of solar energy need to be addressed. "The photovoltaics sector is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world," remarks Prof. Hans-Jörg Bullinger, President of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. "A standardized approach to quality assurance is becoming increasingly important. For this reason, we are working with testing and certification organizations such as the VDE Institute to offer a common set of services for manufacturers and installation companies. We are also networking internationally with key players in the field." This is also how the cooperation between Fraunhofer, VDE and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Group came about. The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft partners participating in the joint venture in the US are the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems CSE located in Cambridge, MA and the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE in Freiburg, Germany.
The goal is to make international testing and certification services available under one roof for photovoltaic module manufacturers in North America. As competition in the field mounts, the pressure on manufacturers to provide quality and transparent documentation for worldwide markets increases By providing a single test that satisfies all required standards, the joint venture assists manufacturers in making a smooth entry into the global marketplace. This cuts costs to businesses while helping them speed up the introduction of their products to the market. It also eliminates the need to perform time-consuming multiple tests and certifications for each country individually. The planned test center will be equipped with the latest technology and will be kept up-to-date with the state of research in the field. This will ensure, for example, that modules based on modern thin-layer technologies or concentrator systems can be tested.
Named the CFV Solar Test Laboratory, the new testing center will complement the activities already under way at Fraunhofer and VDE in the areas of photovoltaic testing and certification. In addition to the well-established certified testing carried out at the Fraunhofer Institute in Freiburg, cooperative testing services are offered for the Southeast Asian market at the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS). This ensures a constant level of quality for modules produced for markets in North America, Europe and Asia.
The choice of location for the new testing center in North America was certainly well thought-out. Albuquerque, New Mexico, offers several benefits at the same time: for one, the greater Albuquerque area is already home to a large number of photovoltaic and high-tech firms. The test laboratory will also benefit from its proximity to the University of New Mexico and Sandia National Lab. The latter, a major national laboratory run by the United States government, has been working for many years to improve the reliability of photovoltaic systems and to develop testing standards for photovoltaics. And not least, the wealth of sunlight the area enjoys is also ideal for endurance testing of PV modules. The test center is scheduled to be commissioned in early 2011. It will be located on the grounds of the Mesa del Sol development area. The State of New Mexico, Bernalillo County and the City of Albuquerque are all sponsoring the activities as part of a local business-development program.