Solar panels and the climate: the challenges of global warming
3SUN’s response to the effect of extreme weather conditions on photovoltaic modules.
Increased global temperatures. Rising sea levels. Loss of biodiversity. Significant changes in precipitation. And above all, increased extreme weather events. Climate change and the great, complex challenges faced by humanity require resilience. In the way we react, think and build. And when it comes to producing clean, sustainable energy, in spite of the obstacles. Extreme temperatures, sudden storms, and violent whirlwinds, in fact, not only have a devastating effect on the planet, but also on the structures that are on the front line when it comes to combating them. We are thinking about photovoltaic panels, for example, the modules needed to convert sunlight into power, placed in fields or on rooftops, and exposed to all types of bad weather. And are they able to be resilient? Can they also withstand the unforeseeable effects of the very changes they are seeking to combat or limit?
As things stand, there are many well-known risks
“Photovoltaic modules are designed to withstand moderate winds, but extremely strong winds or whirlwinds can cause physical damage, such as breakage or removal from their supports. Heavy rainfall can also cause structural damage to panels, to their stands and to the structures supporting them. In case of lightning, in spite of protective systems, it is possible for voltage spikes to be created, along with electromagnetic interference in the power grid or control instruments, such as inverters or sensors”, explains Cosimo Gerardi, CTO of 3SUN, always at the forefront when it comes to the production of photovoltaic modules that meet the needs and challenges of global warming.
“In particularly cold climates, accumulated snow or ice on solar panels, as well as temporarily reducing efficiency, if continued, risk deforming or cracking modules, leading to malfunctions and therefore, a need for their replacement. In areas affected by drought or sandstorms, solar panels can build up a higher quantity of dust and debris, which then reduces the amount of sunlight that gets through to the photovoltaic cells, reducing their efficiency. The same applies for areas with high levels of humidity, where, as well as accumulated debris, mould, fungi and moss can also spread, reducing module performance over time”. Without forgetting extreme heat. “During prolonged heat waves, photovoltaic modules can undergo a reduction in conversion efficiency, and their materials become subject to ageing. High temperatures act on specific parameters. For example, the voltage of the module's open circuit falls as the temperature increases, while the short circuit current increases, which can sometimes lead to a decoupling with the inverter. As a result, there is a drop in efficiency and the panel materials also deteriorate”. The raised ground temperature caused by the increases in average temperature, as well as contributing to problems of drought, also influence the availability of water needed to clean the solar panels, and as a result, this creates a kind of vicious circle, where cleaning takes up more energy, increasing greenhouse gas emissions further.
The key word is innovation
“Special coatings or technologically innovative self-cleaning materials can keep panels cleaner and therefore, more efficient. We are also moving in the direction of adding intelligent robots able to clean the photovoltaic modules on a regular basis, saving water”, explains Gerardi, stressing how the manufacturers of photovoltaic modules need to focus on research to deal with extreme weather conditions more effectively. Starting with the study of water- or air-cooled systems, the use of more resistant materials to deal with bad weather and deterioration caused by harsh climate conditions, and the implementation of advanced monitoring systems, based on sensors and artificial intelligence.
At 3SUN we have already adapted to these needs. 3SUN modules are designed to operate within a vast temperature scale, from very low to very high. In cases of climates with abundant snowfall or heavy rain, their structure is able to withstand the weight of accumulated snow up to 5400 Pa; they can withstand strong gusts of wind, up to an equivalent pressure of 2400 Pa; the materials used are also able to withstand impact, vibration and other mechanical stresses from extreme climate conditions. In environments with high degrees of humidity or exposure to corrosive substances, such as salt in coastal areas, they are able to resist corrosion. In conditions where light is scarce, they maintain a relatively high energy efficiency, thanks to the CORE-H production process, based on two-way heterojunction technology (HJT or SHJ) devised to make maximum use of light reflected from the ground as well as diffused light. Finally, their stringent quality standards and traceability are a guarantee of excellent reliability in difficult settings.
Research and Development to overcome every challenge
The philosophy at 3SUN has always been to invest in research and development to produce new technologies and ideas to improve photovoltaic modules in terms of durability, resistance, reliability, efficiency and aesthetics. The aim of 3SUN, also working in partnership with several international research centres, is to experiment with new materials for both cell and module - such as the perovskite semiconductor which, when coupled with silicon increases the basic efficiency of the solar cell - making the finished product both lighter and at the same time, more resistant. Thinner and textured toughened glass for a reduction in the impact of dirt deposits, or polymer encapsulants that are less permeable to moisture and with better adherence to the different layers of the module, preventing possible delamination. Or even finer, more flexible cells to prevent the problem of breakage and improve the lifetime of the product, plus even better structural solutions, materials and electronics applied to the module.
“Every idea (or prototype) is tried and tested in compliance with current laws to ensure the best possible product to take to the marketplace”, concludes Gerardi. 3SUN, therefore, is focusing on quality because it is the quality of a photovoltaic module that makes a significant difference in reducing the impact of climate change.