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Scientists invent revolutionary new device to extend solar panel lifespan: 'A faster and cheaper way to detect the cracks'

"It's simple enough to be pretty cost effective for future development."

“It’s simple enough to be pretty cost effective for future development."

Photo Credit: @NREL Learning / YouTube

Extreme weather events like hail and major windstorms can damage solar panels, but a new light technology could simplify the diagnostic process.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), fielded solar panels should be inspected for damage following storms, but this process can be challenging.

It takes more than just the naked eye to assess damage, and the process often requires utilizing complex electrical equipment or removing the panels for indoor lab testing. Inspections often reveal minimal damage to the solar panels but are costly and require system downtime.

Now, scientists at NREL have come up with a solution called PLatypus. This device utilizes photoluminescence by shining light on solar cells. The cells then re-emit that light back to the PLatypus' cameras. Damaged cells shine less brightly.

The PLatypus could be a game-changer for detecting solar panel damage, according to Tim Silverman, senior scientist at NREL.

"Other methods for detecting those cracks usually require you to disconnect modules and plug them into a power supply and often rely on more expensive equipment," he said in a video by NREL. "So this is a faster and cheaper way to detect the cracks." 

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, solar energy is an important piece of the puzzle in reducing planet-warming pollution. It can also improve air quality and reduce water use from energy production. 

And the industry is booming, with installed global solar capacity doubling from 2018 to 2022. Industry group SolarPower Europe expects solar capacity to more than double again by 2025. 

As the world moves toward utilizing more solar to power our lives, tech like PLatypus, funded by the Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office, could prove invaluable.

"It's simple enough to be pretty cost effective for future development," said collaborator Nicole Luna, a University of Colorado Boulder graduate student.

The scientists said they hope the device can be used at power plants to help give panels a clean bill of health but that it's just a proof-of-concept prototype for now.

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