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30-Year-Old Solar Panel Meets Original Specs
Oct23

30-Year-Old Solar Panel Meets Original Specs

Martin Halloway, a green building designer, had been living without electricity for five years before he purchased his first solar panel in 1980.  This exact module, an Arco Solar 16-2000, 33-watt solar panel, was manufactured in 1979 and continues to produce power today. Image Credits: www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/  A couple of years ago, Halloway decided to bring the solar panel down from his roof after 30 years and test it out.  It was an unusually crisp, clear day of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Halloway’s solar panel was designed for a 12-Volt battery (Max. Voltage of 16VDC), so he tested the module by connecting it directly to 12-Volt loads.   Halloway’s first test was connecting a 35 Watt, 12 Volt incandescent light bulb.  The light bulb lit up, passing test number one.  Halloway says that his Fluke multimeter showed the voltage of the module at 14.93 Volts with a full load of 2.015 amps. Next, Halloway connected the Arco Solar Panel to a 4.5 amp, 12 Volt blower. The blower drew a full 2.5 amps from the thirty-year-old module, which is actually higher than the module’s factory specifications. When Halloway called up the manufacturer to share the exciting news, they were surprised but explained how this was probably due to the cool weather during this test. The cooler temperature must have made for a 10% increase in performance. Warranties generally cover a solar module for up to 25 years at 80% nominal output.  To be considered effective by most manufacturers, a solar panel has to operate at least 80% of its rated peak output. So even when some older modules may not reach that 80% mark of the rated peak output, they can continue to produce smaller amounts of energy for years after their warranties are up.  This Arco solar panel, however, far outlived its warranty and is certainly working well into its old age. With the improvements to solar panels since 1979, how long into the future will some of today’s solar panels be functional?...

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New World Record Efficiency for Solar Cells
Oct15

New World Record Efficiency for Solar Cells

Thanks to researchers at EPFL`s Institute of Microengineering in Neuchatel, Switzerland, a new world record efficiency of 21.4% has been set for solar cells. This feat was done with HIT solar cells (heterojunction with intrinsic thin layer), and is by far the highest conversion efficiency ever achieved with the substrates that were used. Image credit: EPFL PV-lab These types of solar cells basically combine the best of monocrystalline and amorphous silicon. The team has applied a tiny film of amorphous silicon, not more than one hundredth of a micron thick, onto traditional monocrystalline wafers. This increases the effectiveness of the sensors, which ultimately boosts electrical output. The research was recently presented by professor Cristoph Ballif, director of the Photovoltaics Laboratory (PV-lab), at the European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition in Frankfurt, Germany. The theory behind solar cells based on heterojunction technology has been around for quite some time now. The main work of the Swiss research team has been to optimize the interface between the different silicon types. They have come up with a process that uses p-doped silicon, which is the most common and cheapest type of crystalline silicon. By adding an ultrathin layer of amorphous silicon, the conversion efficiency of monocrystalline silicon has been pushed from 18-19% alone, to 21.4% with the hybrid solar cell. The process has been validated Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) in Germany. The research paper is set to be published by the IEEE Journal of Photovoltaics. Although the technology is still years away from being ready for the market, the innovation marks an important leap forward in the solar industry. Meyer Burger, one of the companies involved in the development of the process, has begun the work of commercialization machines that are capable of assemble the heterojunction sensors. “Within three to five years, we expect to reach a production cost of $100 per square meter of sensors” estimates Stefaan De Wolf, one of the researchers at PV-lab. I`m curious to see if this innovation is just as exciting a couple of years down the line, and if it will actually help bring the cost of solar panels down.   _________________ Guest Post by Mathias Aarre Maehlum.  Mathias is doing a Masters in Energy and Environmental Engineering. In his spare time he writes about solar power and other sources of renewable energy at his blog Energy...

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Cross-Mating PV Connectors
Oct10

Cross-Mating PV Connectors

DIY Solar Tip:  Cross-mating may not be the best idea. There are over thirty other connector manufacturers in the PV industry today: Amphenol, Weiland, Radox, Tyco, Bizlink, and SMK, just to name a few.   MC4, or Multi Contact connector for four square millimeter cable, is the standard locking system in the PV industry today. There are some manufacturers that will make the claim that their connectors are compatible with MC4. It is important to note that even though it is often possible to physically connect these, it does not mean it is an approved connection.  Though H4 connectors are often marketed as “fully intermateable with industry standard,” this interconnection is not approved by UL, or Underwriters Laboratories. Amphenol, the manufacturer of H4 connectors, has released reports TUV tests to confirm the compatibility between H4 with MC4.  In fact, these connectors have frequently been intermated with MC4 connectors, but it still does not have UL approval.  Even if both connectors have UL approval individually, connecting the two is not approved by UL. Cross-mating can cause additional problems, therefore GoGreenSolar.com does not recommend cross-mating connectors as a general rule of thumb.    Unless the connectors come from the same manufacturer, they often times have different chemical compositions, which can lead to oxidation and other complications. When different connectors are interconnected, potential gaps in the connection can also cause arcing and ultimately, failure. Just because they will “fit” doesn’t mean it is kosher. ...

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Tesla’s Solar-Powered EV Charging Stations
Sep28

Tesla’s Solar-Powered EV Charging Stations

Tesla Motors recently revealed their first six solar-powered “Supercharger” stations for the all-electric Model S sedan.   Strategically located off major California highways, these charging stations have an output of 90 kW to power the sedan’s 85 kWh (or 60kWh) battery, providing 3 hours on the road at 60 miles per hour from only 30 minutes of charging.   The grid-tied solar-powered Supercharger stations can send excess power back into the grid.    Tesla’s six Supercharger stations are located throughout California, making a road-trip from LA to San Francisco possible.   Tesla CEO Elon Musk intends to build vast network of 100 Supercharger stations by 2015.  These Supercharger stations will be conveniently located at shopping destinations and restaurants.      Tesla’s all electric vehicles charge for free at the Tesla Supercharger stations.  Though most EVs cannot charge at these stations, it isn’t clear whether future non-Tesla vehicles will be allowed to use these charging stations....

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What is the Smart Grid?
Sep26

What is the Smart Grid?

Just in the last two decades, we’ve seen our daily communications progress from landlines and pagers to smartphones.  Though the devices we use on a daily basis have been dramatically improving over the years, we’re charging our iPhones with century-old grid technology. The North American electric grid, otherwise known as the “largest machine in the world,” is the intricate network of power stations, transmission lines, transformers, and distribution lines that power our daily lives.  The idea for the North American electric grid was developed about a hundred years ago.  A hundred years ago, the average person’s energy demands were quite modest in comparison with today.  A centralized energy model used to make sense. US energy consumption is expected to increase 41% by 2030. With a drastic increase in demand for energy from a growing population, the North American electric grid is under enormous pressure.  We’re currently experiencing an increase in blackouts and brownouts because of the stress on this dated infrastructure. Though the grid is actually 99.97 % reliable, Americans still pay $150 billion every year because of these disturbances in grid electricity. Long story short- the grid is old and in need of change.  This is why everyone is talking about “Smart Grid.”  With all the hype about Smart Grid, it has many wondering what its defining feature is. Truthfully, the Smart Grid is more of a concept than one specific technology. The goal of Smart Grid is to adapt the existing infrastructure to 21st Century demands by implementing modern communications technology. The easiest way to conceptualize what “Smart Grid” means is to imagine the entire electrical infrastructure connected to the internet.   The Smart Grid is a vision of a more flexible, efficient, and reliable grid that will support renewable energy and engage consumers in new ways.   This won’t be an overnight change, but rather a gradual move towards this ideal. The Smart Grid will be able to collect and respond to data collected throughout the entire electricity grid.   Transmission and distribution sensors will be installed throughout the grid, enabling communication between the devices themselves and with utilities operations.   This will allow the grid to determine the most efficient way to transmit and distribute electricity, saving money and keeping the cost lower. Remote control and automation technologies make the entire system more reliable and efficient.  The Smart Grid will enable us to understand and improve the generation, transmission, distribution and consumption of electricity, creating a more balanced and efficient grid. Utilities will be able to predict, detect, and respond to blackouts/brownouts immediately by without having to wait for a customer to call in and notify the...

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How Spinach Could Boost the Output of Solar Panels in the Future
Sep14

How Spinach Could Boost the Output of Solar Panels in the Future

Yep you read correctly, spinach is no longer just for Popeye.  Researches have discovered that solar cells can benefit from this leafy green vegetable that traditionally is being used to grow cartoon muscle.  It`s been four decades since researchers isolated a protein found in spinach called Photosystem 1 (PS1).  It was found to absorb almost all sunlight it is exposed to – close to 100% – or about four to five times more than what a typical solar panel on today`s market is capable of. Unfortunately, spinach does not generate any electricity in sunlight. Instead, it uses the sun`s energy for photosynthesis. However, this is not the first time that scientists have mimicked natural evolution to improve technology.  Thinking that we might one day be able to apply this protein in future solar cells to improve efficiency rates is really not that crazy. A small research team at Vanderbilt University has now brought this concept a giant step closer to reality.  They found that by doping silicon with a positive charge, they could successfully apply PS1 to a conventional solar cell.  This “biohybrid” solar cell produces 1 milliamp of current per square centimeter at 0.3 volts, which is almost three times better than any biohybrid cell to this date. “This combination produces current levels almost 1,000 times higher than we were able to achieve by depositing the protein on various types of metals.  It also produces a modest increase in voltage,” explains Davide Cliffel, associate professor of chemistry and part of the research team. “If we can continue on our current trajectory of increasing voltage and current levels, we could reach the range of mature solar conversion technologies in three years.” stated Kane Jennings, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at VU. Vanderbilt University is currently looking into to patenting their process. Source: Phys.org _________________ Guest Post by Mathias Aarre Maehlum.  Mathias is doing a Masters in Energy and Environmental Engineering. In his spare time he writes about solar power and other sources of renewable energy at his blog Energy...

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