Improving Off-Grid Solar Markets through More Effective Conformity Assessment

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In 2020, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) published IEC TS 62257-9-8, the quality standard for pico-solar products and Solar Home System kits with up to 350 watts photovoltaic modules. Together with the corresponding test methods (IEC TS62257-9-5), the IEC quality standards form the foundation for quality assurance in the off-grid solar (OGS) sector.

Several national governments have already adopted the IEC quality standards and test methods for OGS products, and others are currently pursuing adoption. National standards underpin quality assurance frameworks that protect consumers while improving the quality, availability and affordability of off-grid solar products in the market. Some countries with large OGS markets – including Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Nigeria – have adopted the IEC quality standard and test methods on a mandatory basis. When a national standard is compulsory, all products imported, manufactured or assembled in the country must meet the standard.

Among countries with mandatory quality standards for OGS products, Pre-Export Verification of Conformity (PVoC) is the most prevalent means of assessing whether imported off-grid solar products meet the quality standard. National governments typically designate independent, accredited third-party organizations to evaluate product compliance and issue a certificate of conformity (CoC) before export. Many countries use PVoC to assess the conformity of a wide range of goods. It has proven to be well-suited for governments with limited resources available for consumer protection.

VeraSol is seeking to improve the effectiveness of national conformity assessment programs by leveraging the international harmonization of the OGS quality standard. We are bringing together government bodies, their partners and the private sector to cooperatively improve the quality of products entering markets. As part of this support for the sector, VeraSol solicited feedback about conformity assessment processes from manufacturers of VeraSol-certified OGS products. Through this activity, VeraSol seeks to:

  • Better understand the PVoC process for off-grid solar products, its successes and its challenges
  • Identify how the adoption of the IEC quality standards for off-grid solar products (IEC TS 62257-9-8) may affect PVoC programs
  • Assess the value of VeraSol product certification in the context of national conformity assessment programs

VeraSol is using the manufacturer input, best practices, and feedback from other sector stakeholders to facilitate the effective implementation of conformity assessment programs for OGS products. We are developing a set of recommendations and resources that our team of policy experts will use in our continued outreach and technical assistance provided to governments, PVoC companies, manufacturers and importers.

Manufacturer feedback on PVoC

We solicited input about conformity assessment processes from manufacturers of VeraSol-certified OGS products. We invited 59 companies to participate in a short online survey, of which 22 responded. Following are key takeaways from the online manufacturer survey:

  • The respondents most commonly import products to Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Tanzania, all of which have quality standards for OGS products and use PVoC programs for conformity assessment.
  • About 41% of the respondents take charge of importing products. In comparison, 32% of them have a mix of outsourcing and carrying out their importation, with remaining manufacturers selling products to import companies.
  • Most companies submit third-party test reports (68%) and/or VeraSol certificates (45%) to PVoC programs.

We held follow-up interviews with ten respondents from Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America to gather more detailed information about their experiences with PVoC and using VeraSol certificates for conformity assessment. The discussions focused on three main topics:

  • Manufacturer overall experiences with PVoC for off-grid solar products
  • Product test reports and quality certificates
  • Process of VeraSol product certification

Overall, the interviewed manufacturers indicated that PVoC programs generally work well for OGS products. Some interviewees described challenges encountered with the PVoC process, but most confirmed that communication with the designated PVoC provider resulted in resolution. The respondents also provided feedback and suggestions for improving the VeraSol certification process.

Read the full report here.

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