Skip to main content.

Research explores effects of aging on solar panels

<p>With teams of engineers and researchers, Southern Company and its partners are working to better learn how solar panels age and determine their future performance.</p>
<p>The research project - led by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) with support from the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative - is being conducted at the Southeastern Solar Research Center, located on the campus of Southern Research (SR) in Birmingham. The center - a collaborative effort between Southern Company, EPRI, SR and others - works to learn how the southeastern U.S. climate, with its high levels of heat, humidity, precipitation and pollen, affects the performance of solar photovoltaic systems.</p>
<p>Southern Company Research Engineer Will Hobbs said the research will help develop ways to accelerate the aging of solar panels in a laboratory, without waiting 25 to 30 years. The eventual goal: compare panels that have been aged artificially with panels that have aged naturally in the field.</p>
<p>Hobbs said the SR research lab has an environmental chamber that can hold 12 solar panels and control temperature, humidity and UV exposure. &quot;It looks like a large walk-in freezer, and it can heat panels up to 185 degrees Fahrenheit or cool them down to negative 40 degrees,&quot; Hobbs said.</p>
<p>The three-year project is one year in. The first year was spent developing the project plan, procuring and setting up lab equipment and identifying a solar facility that can provide panels for the testing.</p>
<p>&quot;We chose a commercial solar facility that had been operating for more than three years and that had spare, unfielded solar panels from the original commissioning of the plant,&quot; Hobbs said. &quot;Solar manufacturers are constantly changing materials and refining their designs. We needed panels that were an exact match to those that have been aging naturally in the environment.&quot;</p>
<p>The panels recently arrived at the center and are being measured, characterized and preconditioned before the accelerated aging begins.</p>
<p>Hobbs said the applications for this research are wide-reaching. &quot;Manufacturers can take the novel protocols developed in this project and use them to refine and improve solar panel designs,&quot; he said. &quot;For Southern Company, we can use that information to determine whether a certain kind of panel is low, medium or high grade. When we purchase a solar plant, we may be better able to determine if it's in the condition we would expect for its age.&quot;</p>
<p>As an industry leader in the research and development of new, innovative energy solutions, Southern Company is constantly evaluating renewable technologies to create better ways to serve customers and communities.</p>