For Safety in Solar ...

An interview with Kenneth P. Boyce of UL, LLC at Solar Power International 13 - 10/22/2013As I mentioned in the previous post, we’d pulled a list of all the Chicago-area exhibitors at the Solar Power International 13 show, and we were using that as a basic guide to give some structure to our meanderings through the miles and miles of aisles down at McCormick Place. One of the more familiar names on that list was UL, LLC, more commonly known to folks my age as Underwriters Laboratories.

UL has a long history in Chicago, dating back to their founder’s being hired to do safety inspections on the “Palace of Electricity” at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition … seeing potential here, he stayed on after the fair and founded Underwriters Laboratories – and developed the system of the familiar “UL” inspection labeling mark. Over the years they’ve expanded into many “green” businesses, and in 2008 opened the largest testing and certification facility for photo-voltaic products in North America (in San Jose, CA).

One of UL’s on-going areas of expertise has been in fire safety, and this has been a particular concern for Solar among the firefighter community, as there’s no foolproof way to shut off a solar array – as any light will be still producing electricity in the panels and their cables, and their typical location on buildings’ roofs creates hazards for first responders. UL has been working with a wide range of industry and governmental groups to develop standards, certifications, and training to avoid these dangers … and this was one of their main purposes for exhibiting at the Solar Power show. Here’s some specific info on that from a document on their site:

PV module fire testing is an integral part of the US safety architecture and UL standards for safety, working closely with regulatory authorities, fire research organizations and industry and government groups.

UL has over 100 years of world-wide experience in fire testing for the building, construction and energy sectors and is actively involved in fire safety research and knowledge transfer with industry stakeholders for building, structural, construction materials and PV module fire testing.

In order to obtain UL certification for PV modules, all of critical components must comply with established North American standards. That is, in addition to testing the module itself, all polymeric materials, junction boxes, connectors and connecting cables must also be individually assessed. If the critical components used in their products have already been certified by UL, PV module manufacturers can reduce the risk of delay to market and the costs associated with end-product certification.

We got a chance to speak with Kenneth P. Boyce, who is UL’s principal engineer manager for Energy, and here’s that video:

Again … the Solar Power show was very technical, and much of the info, even from an expansive company like UL, was very focused on details that were not of “general interest”. It is great to hear that a “home town player” (although they’re certainly more Global than Chicago these days – despite the Daley Center tree lightings) is so active in this essential aspect of the renewable energy industry!


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