How UL Is Helping Solar Go from Science Experiment to Mature Industry


UL announces a new suite of PV plant services to manage the risks associated with building and operating PV plants. The services, which build on UL’s research and technical knowledge in the power generation, can help bring confidence and credibility to the solar industry.


As solar power continues to spread rapidly in the U.S., concerns have arisen about safety and quality control. That’s not surprising in an industry that’s growing so fast. But it doesn’t help consumer confidence when stories about defective panels circulate widely. Add to that the many recent stories about potential fire hazards, and people might start to wonder if solar is worth it.

To mitigate quality issues, Sunrun recently announced it’s implemented a quality-control process. That’s great news for the solar industry.

Also great news is that another important player is getting in on solar quality assurance and risk management. UL (Underwriters Laboratories), a global safety science leader, has already been instrumental in ensuring fire safety for solar panels. Now it’s going further in the solar area.

Today, the company announced a suite of services to manage the risks associated with building and operating PV plants.

UL has been working on PV installation standards since the 1980s. According to Evelyn Butler, Business Development Director of UL’s Energy and Industrial Systems business, “This is a natural extension of our services — UL has been a trusted independent third-party who has worked with stakeholders of the PV value chain for years.”

At Intersolar last year, Butler noted, a panelist said, “It’s time to take solar from a science experiment to a fully blown industry that has legitimacy to it.” That hit home. UL has always been involved in helping meet industries’ needs through science, from a product perspective. Now they’re helping solar grow and become a well-functioning, mature industry. Butler added that UL, with its reputation for doing diligent work, can “bring credibility and confidence.”

PV plant investors, developers, owners, and operators need to mitigate risks and reduce costs. UL’s PV plant services were developed to help those stakeholders make informed decisions as they assess the risks and uncertainties associated with designing and commissioning a PV plant.

The services build on UL’s research and technical knowledge within the power generation industry. The fact that UL is a trusted, independent third party adds to the value of these services.

Like the Sunrun process, UL’s services cover the entire life cycle — from the design stage to the commercial operation date and throughout the in-service lifetime of a PV plant. Butler noted, “UL has the ability to look farther up the value chain when a product is developed. How we look at safety and performance being designed into a product has always been something we consider in standards, and in testing and certification it makes sense to look at it this way at well. UL has always encouraged thinking about this early in the process.

“It’s a good signal that there is concern about the quality beyond just checking what’s coming from the manufacturer,” continued Butler. We’re seeing more sophisticated approaches beyond ‘You sent us what we ordered.’”

UL’s suite of services, which can be specifically tailored to meet the needs of each stakeholder, include:

  • Design review

  • Yield assessment and due diligence

  • Bankability

  • Plant performance

  • Reliability/durability

  • Plant inspections

  • Commissioning

  • Plant verification

  • Hardware certification and performance·        


“Although UL has typically been thought to be involved further upstream in the PV value chain, we have been involved end to end through our installer trainer, field evaluation services, certification services, and working with AHJs [Authorities Having Jurisdiction]. We offer a total solution for PV power plants,” Butler stated.