The Latest Developments On Solar Energy Technology

Twenty years ago, solar panels on residential homes were virtually non-existent. In today’s age, they’re becoming more and more prevalent. That’s due to several factors, including plummeting costs, advances in tech, and more. Homeowners also have some attractive incentives to go solar, including tax breaks and lower utility bills.

By the end of Q3 2020, the US had enough solar panels to power an impressive 16.4 million homes. While that trend slowed a bit recently due to component shortages, it’s sure to continue to rise in the future. A lot is happening in the world of solar energy lately, including some exciting new research. As efficiencies in technology continue to improve, prices will continue to fall. As such, solar power will become more accessible to residential homes in America. Here’s a look at some of the latest developments related to solar panels and renewable energy.

Trends in Solar Energy Technology

NREL and Improving Solar Panel LID Defects

As of October 2021, researchers at the US Department of Energy have been designing improvements for solar panels. The DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory partnered with the Colorado School of Mines to do so. Their goal is to develop a new technique to identify defects in silicon solar cells. These defects are what cause significant drops in a solar panel’s efficiency. That’s known as light-induced degradation (LID), and it’s long been a problem for solar panels.

Researchers are working at the atomic level to identify LID defects in silicon solar panels. Light-induced degradation can strip the efficiency of a solar panel by 2%. While that may not seem like much, it does a lot to wear away at a panel’s typical 30-40 year lifespan. Solar panels made from silicon make up more than 96% of the panels on the market today. The potential improvements that the team at the NREL can create from their research are massive. If they can discover a way to combat LID, they can revolutionize the way manufacturers strengthen their solar panels.

Bringing Solar Technology Indoors

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology are finding indoor uses for solar. Doing so would significantly increase the energy efficiency of buildings and smart devices. NIST researchers used a series of small modular PV devices made of different materials. The goal was to test the indoor charging capabilities of these devices. To do so, they hooked up the lowest efficiency module to a wireless temperature sensor.

The results were exciting. The silicon module, absorbing light from an LED, could supply more power than it consumed. That suggests that the device could run indefinitely while the lights stay on. That would remove the need for exchanging or recharging batteries. In the past, flipping on a light switch meant expending energy. With the recent discoveries at NIST, flipping a light switch can mean producing energy too.

The world continues to move toward a transition to renewable energy. Solar panels are more affordable than ever, and solar technology is improving all the time. It’s easier now more than ever for a homeowner to install solar panels.

The Need-to-Know About Solar Panel Degradation

Some things get better with age – a bottle of whisky, a jar of pickles, or even a life full of wisdom. However, it is contradictory for an electronic device such as the solar power system. Solar panels and their system components are fated to degrade over time despite the lifespan of 20 to 30 years which depends on the manufacturer.

What is Solar Panel Degradation?

Solar panels deteriorate slowly over time. Degradation in solar panels means they generate less power output from the same amount of sunlight as they age. The period of degradation is measured against the lifespan of the solar panels.

what is solar panel degradation

Why Solar Panels Degrade Over Time?

The degradation of solar panels has been a challenging problem for manufacturers in the industry. However, advancements and developments pop up to lower the degradation rate while keeping up the power output. Although it is still a safe investment, the solar power system is expected to deteriorate at or below a specific rate.

The average degradation rate of the panels is at one percent each year. Nevertheless, a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) shows that quality panels degrade at a rate of 0.4% over time which is remarkably lower.

Types of Solar Panel Degradation

There are three types of solar panel degradation to keep tabs on.

1. Light-Induced Degradation (LID)

Despite slow degradation as time goes by, it is crucial to know what happens to the solar power system once installed for the first time in residences, industries, or businesses. The degradation rate is significantly higher, which is at one to three percent within a short amount of time due to the sun exposure of the panels. This type of degradation is the Light-Induced Degradation or LID.

Without a doubt, sunlight is also considered a factor that contributes to the deterioration of the panels. To address this matter, manufacturers added UV blockers to protect the panels from the intense radiation from the sun.

2. Potential-Induced Degradation (PID)

The Potential-Induced Degradation or PID affects different components in the solar power system, such as the photovoltaic cells or panel frame. Once these components are disrupted, it causes voltage leaks which lowers the amount of electricity the panel can generate.

Although this type of degradation does not typically occur, it can significantly dent the panels’ performance by 30%.

3. Aging-Related Degradation

The solar power system will never be able to evade natural wear and tear. Various external factors contribute to the degradation of the panels. One of these factors, which is also difficult to control, is the weather. The adverse weather conditions in the country, such as snow, ice, hail, strong winds, and heavy rainfall, reduce the panels’ efficiency. These age-related degradations can cause microcracks.

Microcracks are very tiny cracks that form in the crystalline silicon of solar cells. Once these microcracks form, electrical connections also deteriorate. And if this happens, the photons from the sun have fewer paths to flow into; hence, less energy goes to the solar inverter that supplies electricity to the residence, industry, or business.

Microcracks are also caused by thermal cycling. Thermal cycling involves cycling two extreme temperatures rapidly. Warm temperature makes the panel and its components expand, while cold temperature enables it to contract. The constant cycling rapidly between these two extreme temperatures strains the panels and forms microcracks.

Water can get inside since these microcracks create holes on the panel’s surface and damage the seal. Other than these degradations, adverse weather conditions can also cause the hardening of the silicon, eroding of the frames, and contaminating the solar cells.

solar panels pigeon issue

Other reasons that contribute to the deterioration of solar panels

1. Quality of Materials

Some manufacturers will produce substandard or low-quality materials to keep the panels’ price low. These materials and components include solar glass, solar cells, and aluminum frames. Cheap materials increase the risk of product failure, which would eventually lead to more expenditures.

2. Installation

The way the panels are assembled and installed can affect their degradation rate. Installers need to be careful with the handling of solar modules. Since these panels are carried on top of their hardhats, the constant flexing, rocking, and bouncing back and forth can result in microcracks, scratches, and improper installations of electrical connections. Moreover, incompatible components and materials can speed up LID or PID on the panels.

3. Cleaning and Maintenance

Although the solar panel requires little maintenance, it is still vital to periodically monitor and check it to clear any debris or build-up that may affect its performance. It is also essential to check regularly the other components in the system, such as the cables, connections, and inverters, to ensure optimal performance.

Although the degradation of the solar power system is inevitable, it is paramount to understand the reasons they deteriorate in due time. Understanding their life cycle helps set your expectations and get the most out of your superb long-term investment.