Why Are Environmental Tests Crucial for Solar Power Success?

Solar power is becoming more popular and accessible. It’s also critical for helping the world transition away from fossil fuels. However, panels don’t perform universally well in all settings. That’s why environmental tests are vital for ensuring the equipment provides the expected payoffs. Here are some specific things solar panel testing can achieve.


Analyze Degradation Timelines

Many leading solar panel manufacturers guarantee their products for 25 years. However, investigations show that the equipment often fails much sooner than that. Researchers sought to find out why.


A team from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) found that environmental interactions with widely used plastics, including polyamide, can cause the panels’ backsheets to crack prematurely.


The research involved collecting solar panels from around the world after being in use for several years. Chemical and mechanical tests confirmed that moisture and water wear away a backsheet’s surface. However, the breakdown was more severe in areas where ultraviolet rays shone through gaps in the solar cells. That sun exposure forms acetic acid, which causes backsheet decay from the inside out.


Research conducted elsewhere involved scientists performing tests for five years and collecting associated weather and panel performance data. The conclusions showed that aspects such as the sun’s intensity, wavelengths and angle help determine which panels last for the expected life spans and which fail early. These findings could be instrumental in helping manufacturers improve their products and enhance customer trust.


Assess Performance in Different Locations

Solar panels don’t perform universally across a country. However, environmental tests can indicate which regions are best suited for that kind of clean power. Industry analysts expect a fossil fuel demand peak around 2029. However, it could take years beyond that for alternative energy sources to take over. Reliable testing of solar panel performance could increase people’s eagerness to make the switch, however.


Researchers at Arizona State University developed an Internet of Things (IoT)-based system that measures a panel’s voltage as a function of light intensity. The portability of the setup is important for getting data from various places and comparing it.


Joseph Karas, who worked on the project and co-authored an academic paper about it, explained, “The weather effects on photovoltaic systems in Arizona will be vastly different than those in Wisconsin or Louisiana. The ability to collect data from a variety of climates and locations will support the development of universally effective solar cells and systems.”


The data could also support people who need financial assistance to help solar panel projects come to fruition. For example, when a banker decides whether to underwrite a large-scale initiative, they’ll appreciate reliable statistics about the payoffs it’ll likely achieve.


Ensure the Solar Panels Can Survive Shipping

Solar panel manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure their products meet customer expectations. That means building them to tolerate the outdoor environment and conducting long-term monitoring in some cases. It also requires solar panel testing to see whether the equipment can endure the conditions associated with shipping. Otherwise, the costs associated with equipment broken during transit could cut into a company’s profits.


In one instance, researchers sought to address the tiny cracks that can occur in solar panels during shipping, even without major mishaps. They simulated tests to mimic the handling conditions on forklifts and hand pallets and during air and ground transportation.


The experiments had packaged solar panels sliding down an incline, exposed to shocks due to drops, compressed as if stacked and subjected to random intense vibrations. The researchers also had tools to record the temperature and humidity in the environment during these tests.


Afterward, the group visually inspected the solar panels and their outer packaging. They also checked for power degradation and cell breakage. The goal was for power degradation not to exceed 3% after the tests and for the breakage rate to be less than 1%. They believed the results of these endeavors would help manufacturers improve the packaging and overall design for solar panels to reduce shipping-related problems.


Further New Technologies

Researchers have also developed innovative methods of testing new types of solar panels. Their work could help the whole industry progress, especially as people find out what works best and what’s not quite ready for widespread development.


For example, people are interested in perovskite solar panels because experiments indicate they have almost identical the efficiency of conventional silicon ones but cost about 10 times less. However, those assessments happen inside labs on millimeter-sized samples. Thus, they don’t allow for realistic environmental tests.


However, scientists developed a new, accelerated process that uses a machine with some 3D-printed components. They found that this method can process 12 perovskite samples at once, shortening the testing time from hours to minutes. The assessments still happen indoors, but this method enables creating a data library. People can then use it to determine the best candidates for future tests and more research and development funding.


The researchers confirmed that their current setup allows them to test thousands of solar cells per day. That impressive speed could mean new technologies become feasible faster than before. If so, that advantage could spur people’s interest in solar power by showing them the associated technologies are continually improving.


Anticipate Solar Panel Performance During Storms

Solar panel testing is also useful for showing how they’ll perform during severe weather, including hail and snowstorms. Being in an area that often gets inclement weather does not automatically mean a person should decide against a solar panel installation. However, having accurate expectations about how the weather may affect maintenance will help people make smarter decisions.


Researchers recently looked at data from 800 solar farms in 24 states. They collected maintenance records, weather reports and solar power generation statistics for the studied locations.


They concluded that severe weather could have numerous effects on solar equipment. For example, it can reduce the overall amount of sunlight reaching a panel, negatively impacting power generation. Moreover, harsh weather can mean the panels need upkeep sooner than expected.


Machine learning helped the researchers make sense of the massive amount of data. They found that snowstorms had the most significant adverse effects, followed by hurricanes. Additionally, the age of a solar farm influenced how well it weathered a storm, with older ones sustaining more damage than newer installations. The team wants to eventually expand its focus beyond extreme weather events to prolonged intensive periods, like excessive heat.


Environmental Tests Predict the Return on Investment for Solar

Solar panels can pay off, but excellent performance is not guaranteed.  Testing could reduce the chances of adverse outcomes, minimizing surprises and making the panels wiser investments.


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