Electricity costs have been rampantly increasing in Australia which has had a greater impact on those who are unable to afford it and also on the electricity intensive industries such as manufacturing.
Electricity costs have risen by a compounded average growth rate of 10%pa over the last 5 years. They are expected to increase even further in the coming years. Not only are the traditional sources of electricity expensive, they are also highly dangerous to the future of our environment. Traditional Energy Sources, such as coal and oil are dependent on burning of materials that have been extracted and are non-renewable. These energy sources not only deplete the environment with all kinds of pollution but are also finite and will be gone in a few decades. Our dependence on fossil fuels fosters insecurity about the future availability and affordability of energy. As a result, the world is swiftly looking towards alternate energy solutions to propel the next phase of growth and industrialization.
The sun is at the center of biological and chemical processes on Earth. Without it, the life cycle of plants and animals would terminate, the circadian rhythms of all terrestrial creatures would be disrupted; and in time, all life on Earth would cease to exist. The sun's importance has been recognized since prehistoric times, with many cultures even viewing it as a deity. However, it is only in the past few centuries that the processes that power the sun have come to be understood. Thanks to ongoing research by physicists, astronomers and biologists, we are now able to grasp how the sun goes about producing energy, and how it passes that on to our solar system.
The Sun emits enough power onto Earth each second to satisfy the entire human energy demand for over two hours. Given that it is readily available and renewable, solar power is an attractive source of energy. This alternative energy solution is a practical and affordable solution to our electricity needs.
Solar panels are usually able to process 15% to 22% of solar energy into usable energy, depending on factors such as placement, orientation and weather conditions. The amount of sunlight that solar panel systems are able to convert into actual electricity is called performance, and the outcome determines the solar panel efficiency. In order to extract the most energy efficiently solar cells need to be composed of some material that is good at capturing energy from light. This material can be sandwiched between two metal plates which carry the electricity captured from light energy to where it is needed, like the lights of a home or machines of a factory.
Choosing the right material to capture light involves measuring the difference between two energy levels called the valence band and the conduction band. The lower-energy valence band is filled with many small negatively charged particles called electrons, but the higher-energy conduction band is mostly empty. When electrons are hit with particles of light, called photons, they can absorb enough energy to jump from the low-energy conduction band into the high-energy valence band. Once in the valence band, the extra energy in the electron can be harvested as electricity. It’s as if the electrons are sitting at the bottom of a hill (the conduction band) and being hit by a photon that gives them the energy to leap to the top (the valance band).
Importance of testing solar panels in extreme conditions
After choosing the right material to capture this energy from the sun, it is also important for the solar panels to be put under intense conditions to test it's performance in extreme situations before being used by the general population to power their home appliances.
Solar panel efficiency testing is carried out in order to prevent low quality solar panels from being sold in the market. The manufacturer has to prove that the solar cells have long term durability and long term efficiency. Solar panels available in the Australian market are certified by first passing extensive testing.
No customer wants to end up with solar panels that aren't technically sound. There are major advantages of switching to solar, but it is extremely important to make sure that the right type of solar panel gets installed in your home. In order to guarantee the quality of a solar panel, it is extensively tested under the following extreme conditions -
Wind is one the most predicted causes of solar cell damage. Solar panel manufacturers conduct extensive wind tunnel testing to decrease potential damage.
Hail testing consists of firing artificial hail at a speed of 20 to 30 m/s. Solar cells remain undamaged at these speeds.
A thick layer of snow can be too heavy for a solar panel. Solar cells stop working when more than 5 cm of snow accumulates on a solar panel and decreases solar panel efficiency by 100%.
Ice builds up on the surface of solar cells when no silicon coating is applied. The build up of ice can potentially decreases solar panel efficiency by 25 to 100%.
For chemical residue to dissolve at least 20 mm of rainfall has to land on the surface of the solar cells. Research has shown a reduction of 0.2% in solar panel efficiency when they are covered in a layer of chemical build up.
A solar cell structure can be delaminated by UV induced degradation. Another consequence can be the discolouration of individual solar cells.
Damp heat testing
Damp heat testing is carried out to test the durability of solar panels in highly humid conditions. Humidity can lead to corrosion and to module connection failure and an overall decrease of solar panel efficiency.
Insulation resistance is determined by material strength. In weak materials, current leakage can occur on the edges of the solar panel.
Thermal cycling can cause solar panel components to fail. These components include solar cells, interconnections, solder bonds and module connections.
Solar panels are tested under these conditions in State of the Art, fully automated solar panel testing facilities. This high standard in testing enables categorisation of solar panel efficiency in groups with similar power outputs.
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