Ray Burgess, the President & CEO at Solar Power Technologies Inc posted on the Aol Energy website, “Solar Panels Don’t Work. And No One Knows.” That is a provocative title. Burgess said: “Solar panels do not work that well. Often far below expectations. And few know it. Not the owners who depend on power. Not the bankers who finance it. Not the brokers who insure it.”
The economic models that are used to finance, insure and subsidize solar farms assume the solar panels degrade about 0.5% per year. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) says that they can degrade as much as 4.5% a year or more.
At this point you may be wondering who or what is the NREL. According to Wikipedia they are: “The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), located in Golden, Colorado is the United States primary laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency, research and development. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is a government-owned, contractor-operated facility; it is funded through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).” This is not an organization that opposes renewable energy.”
Burgess adds: The latest issue of the leading industry trade journal Photovoltaics International, asks the question: “What is the real quality of the products I am buying?” Short answer: Nobody knows. In Italy last year, “they discovered that after one year in the field, over 90% of the (solar panels) from a one megawatt project began to delaminate and ended up on the ground.” “Delaminate: Scientific talk for falling apart. And these panels had all the standard certifications.”
Burgess’ company sells systems that monitor performance of solar farms. The company’s systems presumably can detect individual problem that are causing substandard performance. He lists below, some of the performance inhibitors.
“Solar production in the field can go bad for dozens and dozens of reasons: An errant golf ball. A passing flock of geese. Bullets. Leaves. Shadows. Dirt. If a leaf or bird dropping prevents the sun from hitting part of your solar array, that knocks out solar production in an area 36 times the obstruction.”
Now I don’t know how that multiplier works, but I will take him at his word.
The above along with the problem of the inability to schedule energy production due to variability of the Sun, makes this form of energy less appealing.
1. Look at the distribution there are some poor panels out there…not all work, but most are under 1%, NREL doesn’t sell panels, they test to see if they actually work and their job is to make sure they work better than some poorly constructed panels have in the past. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) published the world’s largest review of around 2000 PV solar panel arrays from around the world and found that most have a degradation rate of less than 1%. Crystalline silicon technology, closer to 1/2%, with some in the field more than 30 years now and still going strong. Degradation rates, in addition to indoor accelerated testing (such as flinging 1 inch hail balls at 50mph at it, etc.) play a role in the 25 year warranties that you see today. I have seen roofs that were totaled by hurricane winds and hailstorms where the solar panels on the same roof were just fine, so it is a myth that they can’t withstand the forces of nature. NREL got hit with a huge hailstorm (1 inch to golf ball), and NONE of their many different brands and types of panels broke…..they lost a Fresnel lens for an experimental solar concentrator (not used for commercial or residential energy production) and had broken shell covers on research equipment, but the panels were all perfectly fine. The real lesson here is to buy good quality panels that have a history of good performance, a good warranty and good quality inverters.
2. Types of panels that have been in production for decades (large flat boxes, with extremely strong tempered glass) may be a better bet in most large situations where you are investing a lot of money compared to cheap flexible plastic ones, particularly when it comes to delamination problems–which can lead to failure. The flexible plastic seems like a good idea for special situations like softball hail and portable systems.
3. If you have partial shading, you should use microinverters…problem solved.
4. Install the plus and minus ends facing the right way! Someone I know
of had a bunch of panels installed professionally and it
wasn’t performing at all as expected. It turned out they had connected
an entire string of panels BACKWARDS (this would be like putting the
batteries in the wrong way in a flashlight).
5. Google found that if you install panels perfectly flat (near a dirty field 🙂 little
mud puddles form on the panels when it rains….yep you have to clean
that. The panels that Google installed on a roof that were at some
angle they found that they do not need to clean–they let the occasional
rain take care of that. The NREL area is fairly arid, and yet the solar panel testing facility never cleans the panels in their large array field…..it is protocol….the panels…mounted at latitude tilt, perform fine, with only subtle performance variations
based on dirt levels. The real lesson here is that you should install
them at a slight angle at least, not flat.
6. In the early years of automobiles, there were about 1700 companies. How many are
still around? Some companies don’t make it…..that doesn’t mean we
have to live with a horse and wagon. Natural selection is a good thing, in order to produce cost-effectively on a truly large scale.
7. Most quality inverters show the performance right on them in real time and for longer periods of time, so look at it. If it doesn’t perform within specs, call your installer or a knowledgeable person to check it out. The truth is silicon PV panels were first made in the 1950’s and have been made ever since. A lot is known about them and how to make them durable. Don’t run out and buy from some fly by night manufacturer or installer….do your homework with the BBB, etc.
Our system takes care of all of our electricity use (5 people) and
only takes up about 25% of our roof–leaning south at the same angle as
the roof. The panels are classic mono-crystalline silicon, decades long
track record, 25 year warranty, made in USA. We are monitoring
performance (just one high quality inverter) and they are doing great, they produce more than expected per year based on the estimates. There are plenty of incentives to install a system that works. I have seen long term performance data from our local independent test lab and all around the world, so I know PV panels can work very well for decades when built right.
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