Brussels, 01 Oct 2004
With ever-increasing demand for energy and dwindling natural resources to supply it, photovoltaic systems have become an important part of Europe's future. But safeguards are needed to ensure these solar-electricity producing systems meet exacting technical, industrial and quality standards. The European Solar Test Installation has taken up this challenge.
The European Solar Test Installation (ESTI), one of the Commission's Joint Research Centres (JRC), has been handed the mantle of 'accredited calibration laboratory' to verify all solar photovoltaic electricity systems sold in Europe. By ensuring standards and measurements in this field, ESTI will reinforce Europe's leading position in the worldwide alternative energy market.
Photovoltaic systems that convert sunlight into electricity are, according to the Commission's 1997 White Paper on renewable energy, a pivotal technology in reaching Europe's objectives of a safe, secure and sustainable energy supply. Worldwide production of solar electricity increases by over 30% every year, and reached 1 000 megawatts in 2004, which is enough to meet the domestic energy needs of 660 000 Europeans, explains the JRC's Institute for Environment and Sustainability in a press statement.
In Europe, solar photovoltaics has become a major growth industry. Germany alone has the installed capacity to produce over 400 megawatts of solar electricity. Translated into monetary terms, this is the equivalent of €2 billion. But what does this mean? With such huge sums at stake, it is essential that accurate and standardised measurements and tests are carried out on the performance of various photovoltaic systems.
More than scientific formality
Calibration and verification of solar cells and the systems for generating power is more than scientific formality. Take the German example above: a measurement error of just 2% would result in a €40 million loss or gain. As an 'accredited calibration laboratory', ESTI has become the first lab in the world to demonstrate independently that solar electricity systems can be traced and calibrated to the 'International System of Units' (SI) standard, a world-recognised classification since 1875.
In today's highly competitive photovoltaic market, the most important selling point for products is electrical performance – how many muffins can be cooked, how many rooms can be heated and so on. ESTI's recent promotion to reference lab status comes on the back of over two decades of pioneering work in the field of international standards and procedures for calibrating solar electricity.
Its euro per watt measurement, for example, can indicate to solar equipment makers where improvements are necessary to remain competitive. "[ESTI's measurement] can determine the profit or loss of Europe's rapidly expanding solar electricity industry," the JRC notes. "By ensuring the highest standards and quality in the verification of the power of solar electricity, ESTI provides the technical base for Europe's industry to continue playing a leading role in the worldwide energy market."