NREL adds solar PV array field to help inform consumers

NREL engineers Bill Sekulic (left) and Chris Deline monitor the progress of the new PV array just north of the NREL parking garage
NREL engineers Bill Sekulic (left) and Chris Deline monitor the progress of the new PV array just north of the NREL parking garage

Solar panels at the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are ubiquitous to the point of practically being invisible, but new rows of photovoltaic (PV) modules installed on the southern edge of campus are intended to attract attention.

The newest PV modules are being installed to measure how their efficiency at converting sunlight into electricity changes over time. That change, called the degradation rate, will be posted on NREL's website along with the manufacturers' names.

To start, 50 solar PV modules made by three manufacturers will be deployed in 2017. Then, each year for the following two years, additional sets of 50 modules made by other companies will be added.

 

The test centers to validate new technologies and to measure the performance of solar PV modules

“We're going to buy up modules that represent the average cross-section of installed modules each year in the United States and see how they do over time,” said Chris Deline, an engineer at NREL who also serves as director for Colorado's two regional test centers.

The test centers, funded by the Energy Department, are used to validate new technologies and measure the performance of solar modules over time. Across the NREL campus, solar modules are integrated into the buildings, including the roof of the five-story parking garage near the new array field. Another building, the Outdoor Test Facility (OTF), has an adjacent solar array field but doesn't have much room for more modules on its concrete pads.

“The main difference is this large grassy area gives us the capability of having larger systems,” Deline said.

“Over at the OTF, because of our space constraints, we can only have 8 or 10 modules for a given system. With this one we're able to do side-by-side comparisons of larger systems.”

 

More PV modules to be added each year

Once completed, the new solar array field will house four rows of PV modules. The first row, already in place, is for partner manufacturers' modules that NREL is either studying or comparing to similar products. For example, a California company, SolarCity, has NREL testing its modules against those made by a Chinese manufacturer.

Further along the row, high voltage (up to 1,500 V to represent the high voltages used in some PV systems today) is applied to modules of a range of constructions. This helps quantify their susceptibility to degradation associated with the leakage currents that can occur at these high system voltages. How the modules do at NREL will be assessed against the performance of identical setups in Singapore and China.

Ongoing measurement of the new solar modules is part of the PV Lifetime project, a new effort led by Sandia National Laboratories. In addition to the modules deployed at NREL, similar arrays will be installed at regional test centers at Sandia and in Florida. The data collected will be published on NREL's website.

 

2016-11-29 | Courtesy: NREL | solarserver.com © Heindl Server GmbH

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