NREL creates solar PV competitive test site


The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL) is expanding its solar testing options with a new test bed at its campus in Colorado, where it will compare the degradation rates of common PV modules and publish the results online.

While NREL is operating multiple other test sites, it says that the new location will offer a larger area for testing. The organization already has 50 modules each from three different manufacturers which it plans to deploy in 2017, and further plans to add additional sets of PV modules from other manufacturers in 2018 and 2019.

“We’re going to buy up modules that represent the average cross-section of installed modules each year in the United States and see how they do over time,” said NREL Engineer Chris Deline, who runs multiple test labs for NREL.

NREL will be testing modules from SunPower, Trina Solar and JinkoSolar at the site, which is operating under its Photovoltaic Lifetime Project.

Another way in which this newest test bed differs from previous efforts is that NREL will make the resulting degradation rates publicly available on the internet.

NREL will additionally test modules in 1500 volt systems, which it says will help to qualify the amount of degradation associated with the leakage currents which can occur at high system voltages. These modules will be assessed against the performance of identical systems in Singapore and China.

This also means that NREL will be working with modules that are not yet on the market. “This greatly expands our ability to work with commercial partners,” Deline said. “The other neat thing is it allows us to get access to some of these cutting-edge products because a lot of this stuff is not commercially available.”

NREL estimates that the average degradation rate of PV modules ranges from 0.5-1% annually.


Correction: This article was corrected on December 3 at 6:30 AM Eastern Time (U.S.). An earlier version of this article states that Silevo modules were being tested at the site. NREL is testing Silevo modules at a different test site under a different program. We regret the error. NREL has provided further information so we have listed the three manufacturers at this site and under this program.