Southern Company, Partners Study Effects of Age on Solar Panels

By Editors of Power Engineering

Southern Company, the Electric Power Research Initiative and other partners are conducting research to better learn how power panels age, and how performance changes over time.

The project, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, is being carried out at the Southeastern Solar Research Center on the campus of Southern Research in Birmingham, Alabama. The center, a collaboration between Southern Company, EPRI, Southern Research 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.

Will Hobbs, a research engineer with Southern Company, said the research will develop ways to accelerate solar panel aging in a laboratory without having to wait 25 to 30 years. The eventual goal is to compare panels that have been aged artificially with panels that have aged naturally.

The lab’s environmental chamber, which holds 12 solar panels, can heat up to 1855 degrees or cool to negative 40.

The three-year solar aging project is now one year in, with most of that time spent developing the project plan, setting up the lab equipment and identifying a solar facility that can provide panels.

“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,” Hobbs said. “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.”

Solar panels are currently being measured, characterized and preconditioned before the accelerated aging begins.

Hobbs said the study could help manufacturers further refine their solar panel designs. Southern Company will use the information to determine if a panel is low, medium or high grade, and if it’s in the condition expected for its age.

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