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Brian Westenhaus

Brian Westenhaus

Brian is the editor of the popular energy technology site New Energy and Fuel. The site’s mission is to inform, stimulate, amuse and abuse the…

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New Tech Could Make Solar Panels More Efficient

  • Incorporating artificial ground reflectors into solar setups can increase energy production and efficiency.
  • This is particularly significant in Canada and other countries that are typically cloudy.
  • The research will contribute to the global transition to zero-emission power sources.
Solar

University of Ottawa researchers have now devised a smart approach to optimize solar energy effectiveness. Their innovative method includes incorporating artificial ground reflectors, a simple yet powerful enhancement.

The study “Artificial Ground Reflector Size and Position Effects on Energy Yield and Economics of Single Axis Tracked Bifacial Photovoltaics” was published in the journal Progress in Photovoltaics.

The researchers found that by integrating these reflectors into solar setups, they could improve the system’s energy production and efficiency, making such projects more economically viable. This discovery is significant in assessing the costs and benefits of using artificial reflectors in solar energy ventures.

Test site photo of reflective underlayment for solar panels of an artificial reflector experiment performed on the Bifacial Experimental Single-Axis-Tracking Site (BEST Site) at NREL in Golden, Colorado. Image Credit: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden Colorado. For more and larger images click the press release link here.

To study how reflective ground covers affect solar energy output, the University of Ottawa’s SUNLAB, led by electrical engineering Professor Karin Hinzer, who is also vice-dean, research of the Faculty of Engineering, collaborated with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, a world leader in clean energy research, development, and deployment. The study, which was conducted by electrical engineering doctoral candidate Mandy Lewis in Golden, Colorado, found that placing reflective surfaces under solar panels can increase their energy output by up to 4.5%.

“We found that highly reflective white surfaces can boost solar power output,” explains Mandy Lewis, the paper’s lead author. “Critically, these reflectors should be placed directly under the solar panels, not between rows, to maximize this benefit.”

Unlocking solar potential in Canada and beyond

These findings are particularly significant in Canada, where snow cover persists for three-to four months of the year in major cities like Ottawa and Toronto, and 65% of the country’s vast landmass experiences snow cover for over half the year. Bifacial solar systems, paired with high ground reflectivity, offer tremendous potential in these regions. Additionally, given that approximately 4% of the world’s land areas are classified as sandy deserts, this finding has global applications.

According to Lewis, “this research is crucial for maximizing solar energy production in geographically diverse locations. Furthermore, by generating more power per unit of land area, reflectors are ideal for densely populated areas, like city centres, where space limitations exist for solar installations.”

This study marks the beginning of a new international research collaboration between the University of Ottawa and NREL. The project was funded by the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Ontario Graduate Scholarships (OGS), and the US Department of Energy (DoE), underscoring the importance of collaborative efforts in advancing renewable energy technologies.

Global impact in facilitating the transition to clean energy

This research will contribute significantly to the global transition to zero-emission power sources. These findings hold particular value for Canada and other countries that are typically cloudy, since power gains of 6.0% were observed in cloudy Seattle compared to 2.6% in arid Tucson.

**

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The photos suggest this technology would be applicable across quite a range of locations. It also looks like there are solar cell panels facing down from under the panel. Just how this technology might cost out isn’t discussed, but for high latitudes and climates with lots of cloudy time compared to clear weather this might be a workable solution.

On the other hand, solar at high latitude or in cloudy locations has a very difficult cost barrier to overcome. While this technology is inventive and innovative, the price to get into service is worrisome, both as an expense, maintenance and as a subject for government policy forcing the costs on consumers.

By Brian Westenhaus via New Energy and Fuel

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