Two common denominators to guide the solar sector into long-term quality success

This week SolarPower Europe and the Solar Trade Association held the first rebranded version of their asset management conference, Solar Quality 2022. While the event is now five years old, its scope has now been expanded to bring together experts from across the entire solar value chain, from Operation & Maintenance (O&M), Asset Management, and Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC), and it has been rebranded to highlight the quality assurance of European solar. At the centre of the event were two newly launched flagship guidelines, the industry-first EPC Best Practice Guidelines and version 2.0 of its industry-standard Asset Management Best Practice Guidelines, as well as the Asset Management Best Practice Mark, a voluntary quality label for providers that includes a self-assessment checklist. 

On Tuesday, 24 November, the SolarPower Europe Lifecycle Quality Workstream presented the EPC guidelines, which now fill a gap in the industry previously unaddressed. In the launch session, Fraunhofer CSP Director Ralph Gottschalg explained how only a year ago some 20 companies, including component manufacturers, module manufacturers, EPC stakeholders and more, met to discuss what new research directives they needed. But rather than needing more research, it became clear that what the industry really required was guidance and a standardised industry agreement on how to run things. “Guidance is always good. But if it’s based on mere opinion it’s not so good because opinions differ. This leads to friction and friction is a risk in a project”, Gottschalg said. This is why the EPC Guidelines were developed to fill this gap, namely, to create agreement on what to expect from different players, in different roles across the value chain. 

In this vein, Peggy Wolfram, PI Berlin Project Manager, applauded the EPC Guidelines as the launch of a common denominator, a common reference point, to encourage transparency across all stakeholders. Thus from the beginning, the guidelines were intended to be freely available online, and it was encouraged that users share and spread this document. Further, after noticing this gap and seeking to fill it, Gottschalg helped bring this project to SolarPower Europe and described it as the right fit because: “SolarPower Europe is to my knowledge the only organisation that deals with the entire quality cycle in such a holistic way. A little bit is done by different organisations, but there is no other organisation that supports industry from the beginning, through recycling, and all throughout the entire life span.”

The following day, Solar Quality saw the launch of version 2.0 of the Asset Management Best Practice Guidelines. This second version builds on the success of the first edition by incorporating even more industry experience. Existing chapters of the first version were extensively discussed, enhanced, and refined in Version 2.0, which features a new, dedicated chapter on risk management in the operational phase, and a useful skills matrix for Asset Managers in the annex. Reflecting the latest market and technology trends, several new sections were added in the existing chapters, covering topics such as lifecycle best practices, value-added services, revamping and repowering, challenges in multi-jurisdictional and global portfolios, data format and aggregation, digital twins, and management of unsubsidised projects.

On the topic of unsubsidised solar and its impact on quality, Alden Lee, Vice-Chair of the Lifecycle Quality Workstream, explained: “We are already there: solar is already competitive in a subsidy-free world. But quality is not a cost which endangers our competitiveness. It is in fact the way in which we ensure our competitiveness. That is why we came together to make these guidelines. We basically won the race. Now let’s not mess it up with bad quality. Let us ensure high quality so that after 20 years people say: Yes the business plan with solar works”.

Adele Ara, Chair of the Lifecycle Quality Workstream, added: “The main message is that quality, safety, and digitalisation will help the entire solar sector achieve sustainability targets as fast as possible.”

You can find both guidelines and other best practice reports by SolarPower Europe here.

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