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The International Solar Alliance (ISA) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), with funding of the Government of France, are implementing the project „Structuring of an International Network of Solar Technology and Application Resource Centres (STAR C)”.

The STAR C work towards enhancing capacity for deployment of solar energy applications and research, development, innovation, standardization and testing in solar energy to contribute to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions through increased access to modern, reliable and affordable energy.

The International Solar Alliance (ISA) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), with funding of the Government of France, are implementing the project „Structuring of an International Network of Solar Technology and Application Resource Centres (STAR C)”. The overall objective is to create a strong network of institutional capacities within ISA Member States to enhance quality infrastructure (QI) for the uptake of solar energy product and service markets, particularly in least developed countries (LDCs) and small island developing states (SIDS).
The first phase of the STAR C project will focus on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the East African Community (EAC) and the Pacific Community (SPC)/Pacific Island Forum (PIF). To have more impact and to create economies of scale, the STAR C has adopted a regional approach, which facilitates cross-border harmonisation of solar product, service and qualification standards, pooling of resources and joint implementation on national level. In a first step, STAR C will assist the three economic communities in strengthening the regional solar QI frameworks and management systems in partnership with the national standardisation bodies.
Past QI interventions of UNIDO have proven the added value and benefit of regional approaches. In this context, UNIDO has supported several economic communities, including ECOWAS, EAC and SPC, in the establishment of QI policies and regional energy centres under the Global Network of Regional Sustainable Energy Centres (GN-SEC) program. The STAR C is part of the south-south and triangular activities of the centres under the GN-SEC platform. The STAR C implementation will benefit for the established institutional infrastructure and lessons learned of these interventions.
The STAR C project builds a strong partnership with the GN-SEC centres and regional QI infrastructure bodies and their national focal institutions (e.g. energy ministries and national standardisation bodies). ECREEE in Cape Verde, EACREEE  in Uganda and PCREEE in Tonga are already involved to some extend in regional standardisation processes and facilitate regional adoption and convening of key stakeholders (e.g. ministries, standardisation bodies, training and testing institutes) within the respective region. 
For example, in the Pacific island region there exist already published technical guidelines for various renewable energy technologies, including PV and solar thermal, referring to international or Australian standards. Moreover, also on continental level, the African Electrotechnical Standardization Commission (AESC) hast started to work with the GN-SECs on regional standards.
As an outcome, the establishment of equivalent and trusted QI capabilities will help to create a level playing field for solar energy businesses in the regions to compete. Regional cooperations may also agree to share the costs involved in establishing QI institutions by developing regional bodies with mandates related to standardization or accreditation. There can also be arrangements for the sharing of testing and certification  services. Such initiatives can assist countries to cost effectively and sustainably address their needs related to standardization, metrology, accreditation and other QI capabilities.
The STAR C project is jointly implemented by ISA and UNIDO and is supervised by a Supervisory Committee (SC). The project will be executed in partnership with ECREEE, EACREEE and PCREEE and other regional and national key stakeholders.The project includes the recruitment of regional coordinators at the three centres.
Quality infrastructure (QI) builds the credibility necessary for the creation of healthy, efficient and rapidly growing solar technology markets and ensures that expectations from investors and end-users for technology performance, durability and safety are met. Product and service quality standards are an important prerequisite for the long-term sustainability of solar markets and investments, as well as trust of consumers, suppliers and financiers. QI is also a key requirement for an inclusive energy transition, which creates local solar jobs, income and empowers domestic companies to participate in global or regional value chains of solar manufacturing and servicing.
Globally, more than one hundred international standards relevant for renewable energy technologies have been published by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). A significant part are dedicated to standards for PV technologies. These standards cover every aspect of PV energy systems, from solar cells converting solar radiation into electricity, to the manufacturing of solar panels, to aggregating and operating large-scale PV systems.
International standards for SHC have been mainly developed by the ISO. They define test methods for solar thermal collectors, specific components and complete systems.  These core standards are complemented by regional or national standards, which address specific conditions or requirements linked to local regulations.
In the growing markets of developing countries, assurance of product quality is crucial for all components and throughout the value chain of solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal heating and cooling (SHC) systems. However, in many countries, quality control of imported off-grid, distributed or utility-scale solar products is lacking and the market is exposed to low-quality imports. Maintaining quality controls for solar photovoltaic components, solar thermal components and complete thermal systems is further complicated by the large number of component providers active on the global market.
Regarding the manufacturing of components the situation differs per region and technology. For example, in Sub Sahara Africa and Pacific islands, there are only a small number or no manufacturers and most PV modules and inverters are imported. In contrast, various Sub-Saharan African  countries are manufacturers of solar thermal component and quality assurance for manufacturing is important. A good example for a SIDS country is Barbados, which has a very high solar thermal penetration per capita and produces most of the systems locally.
Particular challenges in LDCs and SIDS arise also due to the lack of qualification, know-how and experience regarding quality installations. A study by TÜV Rheinland identified that, throughout the world, installation faults were the cause of more than 50% of serious defects in PV plants. Incorrect installation, often due to minor errors such as loose screws or incorrectly inserted connectors, can thus have devastating effects on plant performance and financial returns. Also the installation of SHC systems requires solid knowledge and can result in complete failure of the system if carried out incorrectly. A number of countries had negative experiences with solar thermal water heaters. Therefore, there is need to invest in reliable and specialised qualification and certification schemes targeting various enablers of the solar value chains, incusing consumers.
A national QI framework for solar PV and SHC comprises institutions in charge of metrology, standardization, accreditation, conformity assessment and market surveillance, as well as the related policy, services and legal and regulatory frameworks. However, particularly in LDCs and SIDS, the solar mechanisms, processes and standards are often not well established, fragmented or hardly implemented.
Moreover, there is no equal progress and harmonisation between countries remains weak. This hinders the uptake of regional trade and value chains for sustainable energy products and services, including within the envisaged African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). There is need to connect these regions to international best practice of solar QI. However, currently there is only very limited international support for the creation of renewable energy QI systems in developing countries.

Outcome 1: Improved quality and certification frameworks for PV and solar thermal products and services

Divided in three interlinked outputs, outcome 1 aims at setting the foundation for a regional quality and certification framework for solar products and services in ISA developing countries and GN-SEC regions. Quality infrastructure is an important enabler throughout all solar technology types and a key requirement for consumer demand and confidence, as well as the strengthening of local solar businesses and providers of solar products and services. Challenges related to the market entry of low quality solar products and uncertified installations is hampering the market uptake and credibility in the technology. It also endangers the sustainability of the energy transition and safety. It has been observed that solar projects fail to meet their design specifications in consistent manner, with regard to efficiency and lifetime energy generation and benefits. This in turn has a high bearing on financial feasibility as higher risk margins are being included to counter these observed technical performance risks. This is though avoidable with more realistic and better verifiable technology performance data.

Ideally, full standardisation of solar components and systems would be required with an accompanying global network of certified standardisation and testing facilities.

The STAR C will not be able to achieve a global standardization network within the two years and a half of project duration period. However, the project will contribute to reduction of technology risks by assessing and establishing solar products and services quality frameworks for an enhanced solar standardization, certification and accreditation ecosystem, setting up the roadmap for further development.

This Outcome will produce two Outputs:

  • Output 1.1: Regional quality framework for solar products established.
  • Output 1.2: Regional quality framework for solar services established.
  • Output 1.3: Regional monitoring and verification system established.

Outcome 2: Enhanced capacities of institutions to offer certified quality solar curricula and training

Outcome 2 will focus on capacitating various institutions (universities, vocational training centres, etc.) to develop and implement a harmonised and adapted solar technologies curricula for the ISA developing countries in the targeted GN-SEC regions. The curricula will focus on PV and solar thermal Project “Structuring of an International Network of Solar Technology and Application Resource Centres” technologies and other thematic and complementary areas. The project will primarily target pilot institution(s) (technical universities, technical institutes, and technical schools) with established basics structures to provide training on technologies in one of the GN-SEC regions. The objective will be to capacitate professors, who will further train project managers, engineers, practitioners, and technicians including, students to spur youth participation. They will further share the knowledge and skills, practically replicating and deploying the strategies and models acquired in the GN-SEC regions and targeted ISA developing countries. The set of interrelated activities under this outcome will ensure the durability of the project, providing concrete set of knowledge and tools, strengthening academic capacity to further train local people for a market uptake of PV and solar thermal technologies products and services.

This Outcome will produce three Outputs:

Outcome 3: Increased impact of solar networks and knowledge management systems

Activities under Outcome 3 will facilitate dialogue, knowledge transfer and dissemination as well as and awareness of solar related topics. Activities under this outcome will support the establishment and/or the strengthening of regional solar networks, and partnership with existing international networks and programs. Multi-dimension (South-South, North-South and triangular) solar technology cooperation and transfer are a high priority for the project.

This Outcome will produce threee Outputs:

  • Output 3.1: Strengthened regional solar networks.
  • Output 3.2: Partnerships with international solar networks and programs.
  • Output 3.3: Establishment of a joint solar knowledge platform (ISA and GN-SEC).

Outcome 4: Effective STAR-C management and governance structure established and sustained

Under this outcome the project implementation and management structures for the STAR C project will be defined, set up and operationalised. UNIDO and ISA as implementing agencies will be responsible for the planning, implementation, monitoring, and reporting, all these in coordination with the governance of France. They will manage the project according to UNIDO and ISA Trust Fund Agreement (to be signed for the operational phase) and to France-ISA trust fund agreement and annually approved budget and workplans by the Supervisory Committee. For the implementation of activities as distributed at the inception phase, each organisation will follow their respective rules and regulations under the consultation and overarching guidance of the Government of France.

This Outcome will produce two Outputs:

  • Output 4.1: STAR-C Secretariat staffed and activities are effectively implemented.
  • Output 4.2: STAR-C short-term and long-term planning framework and governance implemented.
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