New PV Test Lab Could Help Speed Product Pipeline

New PV Test Lab Could Help Speed Product Pipeline

The continent's largest photovoltaic (PV) testing and certification facility opened its doors in San Jose Monday in a development that promises to help solar products reach the market faster and accelerate growth of green collar jobs in the region.

The 20,000 square-foot Photovoltaic Technology Center of Excellence from Underwriters Laboratories (UL) will loosen a bottleneck that has stymied solar technology manufacturers, which must sometimes wait up to a year to have their products tested for performance, safety and reliability.

"You have great technologies that are sitting on shelves because there are not enough facilities out there to test them," Collin O'Mara, San Jose's clean tech policy strategist, told GreenBiz.com Tuesday.

In the U.S., PV modules must earn certification for standards developed by Illinois-based UL. The nearest solar testing and certification facility is located in Arizona. The new facility, capable of testing 120 solar products annually, could conduct the tests in as little as three months.

Testing is a critical point in a solar technology product's journey from conception to market, O'Mara said. After research and development, a prototype of the PV module is created and tested to ensure it can withstand worst-case scenarios, such as extreme weather events. After being validated by a third party, the product is ready for the manufacturing stage, which often requires additional staff. O'Mara pointed to Nanosolar as an example, which took on between 100 and 150 new employees once its product passed the testing stage.

UL, a member of the SolarTech partnership, also wants to assist manufacturers at the beginning of the product design phase.

"We want to sit down with manufacturers as they're sourcing materials and initially designing products to help them better understand the potential certification impact of their decisions," said Bill Colavecchio, vice president and general manager of UL's industrial products sector.

The testing facility meshes well with San Jose's green endeavors. Mayor Chuck Reed's vision for the city includes creating 25,000 clean tech jobs during the next 15 years to make it the world center of clean tech innovation. As many as 25 solar industry companies now call San Jose home, with another 60 or so dotted across the greater Silicon Valley region, O'Mara said. The lion's share of those companies are involved in R&D and production, with the remaining focused on installations.