Earlier this year when I visited Arizona Public Serviceâ''s STAR Center in Tempe, a Phoenix suburb, it was an arresting and yet somewhat forlorn sight: at a desert highway intersection, not far from the campus of Arizona State University, there was a field full of large and very large arrays covered with various kinds of photovoltaic materials and PV cells, some quite weird shaped, all pointing toward the sun. The barren environment, the absence of any human beings noticeably paying any attention (except for me and my guide), the blazing heat, the strangeness of the shapes, and their evident longing for lightâ''all combined in a feeling of orphanhood.
Evidently it wasnâ''t just my overheated imagination. TUV Rheinland Group, which describes itself as â''the world leader in independent testing and assessment services,â'' has announced itâ''s joining with Arizona Stateâ''s Photovoltaic Testing Laboratory to give STARâ''the Solar Test and Research Centerâ''new parents and parental guidance. In essence, ASUâ''s Photovoltaic Testing Laboratory, established in 1992, and STAR, going back to 1985, will now be part of a global test and certification network run by TUV Rheinland, a $1.5-billion corporation.
At a time when solar standards are more important than ever, the reinvigoration of STAR should make a difference. The U.S. governmentâ''s Renewable Energy Research Laboratory in Golden, Colo., will remain the worldâ''s premier center for testing claims made about PV efficiencies. But for claims about durability of systems and their performance in the field, STAR now stands a chance of really getting on its feet and taking a lead.