Solar panels need to be manufactured with climate change in mind

  • New research out of Austrialia highlights the impact of climate change on solar panels.
  • The study found that increased temperatures brought about by climate change could see outputs from solar panels drop far sooner than anticipated.
  • The research calls on manufacturers to develop photovoltaic cells that can stand up to the impact of climate change.

Whether you’re trying to escape the plague of loadshedding or simply trying to be kinder to the environment, solar power is the first choice for many homeowners.

In South Africa alone, solar panels producing 3.4GW of energy were delivered from China in the first half of 2023. This represents three percent of South Africa’s yearly demand and highlights just how fed up with loadshedding South Africans are.

South Africans aren’t the only people moving to solar power, the world is turning toward renewable energy as the price, and reliability of energy systems come into question. However, new research highlights how solar power is a victim of climate change.

As the world’s temperatures rise, photovoltaic solar panels may succumb to increased deterioration so says the paper Accelerated degradation of photovoltaic modules under a future warmer climate published by Shukla Poddar, Fiacre Rougieux, Jason P. Evans, Merlinde Kay, Abhnil A. Prasad and Stephen P. Bremner last week.

The team writes that by 2026, solar power will be one of the largest sources of renewable energy.

However, while manufacturers often ship photovoltaic solar panels with a 25 – 30-year warranty, the researchers note that these panels often begin deteriorating earlier than the warranty period because of climate change. As the climate worsens, the time it takes for the output of a photovoltaic cell to lower is shortened. This impacts not only the cost of maintaining a solar power solution, degradation of the panels can also cause headaches for owners and operators.

There are, according to the research, four main ways that solar panels degrade and these will become more prominent as the climate worsens:

  • Delamination – Increased heat will separate the bonds that hold the various layers of a solar panel together.
  • Discoloured encapsulant – intense sunlight and additional moisture could damage or discolor the encapsulant that is used to hold all of the solar cells together.
  • Ribbon corrosion – More humidity more often can cause corrosion in the internal ribbon connections of a cell
  • Internal circuit failure – Temperature fluctuations can cause the circuits to fail, with higher temperatures potentially leading to a higher chance of failure

Degradation of solar panels isn’t exactly new or bizarre. Manufacturers often estimate that the power output of panels will drop by 20 percent during the warranty period. However, this degradation may be accelerated by a worsening climate.

One of the most common failures in a bad climate according to the authors of the paper is internal circuit failures. This means that panels would have to be repaired or outright replaced sooner than needed or could potentially become a fire hazard.

As the climate changes, the performance of solar panels gets worse. The researchers found that solar panels in Northern Australia would degrade at higher rates and output could be lowered by 8.5 percent at the low end and 12 percent at the high end.

As such, the researchers propose that solar panel manufacturers develop ways to cool the panels while also exploring new, improved materials for the construction of these panels. This also needs to become an iterative process because as the climate changes, the design and development of solar panels has to evolve to account for higher temperatures, more intense storms and worse.

This is especially important for large-scale solar power generation where an 8.5 percent drop in output could lead to an approximate 10 percent increase in the cost of producing energy.

[Image – schropferoval from Pixabay]


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