Q CELLS officially announced on December 1st that it had become the first solar module manufacturer certified under a new Quality Controlled PV (QCPV) program offered by TÜV Rheinland. The Quality Controlled PV program is a new testing standard developed through close cooperation between Q CELLS and TÜV Rheinland, the world’s leading testing service provider for monitoring quality, safety and technology standards. This testing program was designed to raise the bar in terms of monitoring, testing and recognizing solar module quality. Dr. Nicole Nelles, Head of Q CELLS Global Quality Management, remarked, “We have set the industry standard with this QCPV certification, and we want to maintain that standard moving forward.” The hope is that Q CELLS will become a dynamic standard bearer in ensuring that the solar industry never rests on its laurels where module performance and durability are concerned.
In order to create the groundbreaking program, TÜV Rheinland experts were invited to work closely with Q CELLS’ quality management experts at Europe’s largest solar testing facility – the Technology and R&D Headquarters of Q CELLS in Thalheim. Together, not only did they come up with higher testing standards for existing test schemes, but with completely new program components – such as regular, independent and random testing overseen by an onsite expert from TÜV and regular material tests from running production - which turn the Quality Controlled PV program into the new benchmark for solar module quality.
The company has become the first module manufacturer to pass the new three-component Quality Controlled PV certification process of TÜV Rheinland, which will soon be offered across the solar industry.
So what does the program entail, and how is it different to those standards that came before it?
Q CELLS worked closely with TÜV Rheinland to help shape brand new testing schemes that reflect the solar industry’s recent experiences in order to exclude known failure modes. The QCPV program requires the presence of independent TÜV Rheinland experts at production sites/module testing locations of module manufacturers for oversight while performing the three key components of the quality control program. These TÜV experts monitor manufacturing production processes, perform extended stress tests on production samples taken at random every month, and undertake regular material inspections to ensure consistency of quality and standards at the manufacturer where they take up residence. There can be no cherry picking by staff of model modules to be subjected to testing; rather, TÜV’s independent experts have free rein to select and test samples randomly at will. Through the series of tests, transparent and impartial quality control oversight is implemented over a manufacturer’s production processes. This step is the unique point of the QCPV program. The catalogue of tests carried out by TÜV onsite is expected to largely contribute to raising the standard level of approval typically applied in the solar industry.
To create the QCPV program, TÜV Rheinland first identified exactly what the existing testing standards did NOT do. With the assistance of Q CELLS, TÜV found that current certification procedures for module quality did NOT:
• Verify long-term reliability of products in the field
• Perform tests regarding recent failure modes observed in the industry (such as component durability, solder durability, PID, and LeTID)
• Continuously monitor the quality of materials used in production
• Monitor the production quality of modules.
So a new three-component procedure was devised to raise the bar for module production quality. The new Quality Controlled PV program consists of three components: ▲long-term reliability assessment, ▲onsite sampling test, and ▲monitoring the quality of materials.
Component one. Long-term Reliability Assessment:
The initial quality test conducted by TÜV assesses long-term reliability of modules by applying testing durations that are up to three-times longer than standard IEC and UL tests – which are currently the industry standard and also add and adapt sequences to address new failure modes. This includes:
• 2,000 hours of damp heat (DH) testing – twice the duration of a typical 1,000-hour IEC/UL damp heat test
• 600 thermal cycles (TC) – around three times as many cycles as those performed for the IEC
• An extended test sequence combining static and dynamic mechanical load testing with climate chamber stresses
• A UV-test sequence: a test sequence combining DH+ UV irradiation + HF (Humidity Freeze) + UV irradiation + TC
• PID and LeTID testing