Solar for extreme Arctic conditions


Researchers from the US Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories are assessing solar generation in extreme environments north of the Arctic Circle. The team recently installed a 4.3 kW PV system on top of a storage container at Oliktok Point, Alaska. The system uses bifacial solar modules from an undisclosed manufacturer.

“Data collected at Oliktok Point will track daily energy gains and help develop predictive models of energy performance based on the tilt angle and orientation of the solar modules,” said the research institute.

Temperatures at the remote location can go as low as -43 C, with a wind chill factor of -57 C. Structures are covered by ice for most of the year and are exposed to harsh shoreline conditions.

“Oliktok Point is a very environmentally relevant field site – it checks all the boxes,” said Andrew Glen, the manager of atmospheric sciences at Sandia National Laboratories. “We go from permanent ice through the winter, with permafrost, to the sea ice breaking up, to open water and a melt season where the ground softens and turns to mud.”

The results from the system will show which system designs and technologies are most efficient in northern environments with limited sun in the winter.

“Alaska, and Oliktok in particular, represents an edge case for PV deployment,” said Bruce King, the director of Sandia’s Photovoltaic Systems Evaluation Lab. “Learning about edge cases helps inform conventional system design and may identify opportunities to increase energy harvest that might not otherwise be considered. This can be particularly important for PV deployments in other geographic areas that are also not optimal.”

The team said that it hopes the Oliktok Point project will help to facilitate the rollout of climate-optimized PV systems for remote off-grid communities in Alaska.

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