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Scientists highlight biggest threats to performance of our solar panels: 'There are further measures we can take'

"This median loss in performance is a crucial number."

"This median loss in performance is a crucial number."

Photo Credit: iStock

It turns out there is a threshold that impacts the effectiveness of solar panels, but the latest findings have provided valuable insight on how to strengthen the clean-energy grid

On its official website, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) detailed the results of a four-year deep dive into photovoltaic, or PV, systems, which use light to generate electricity. 

The agency, through the PV Fleet Performance Data Initiative, discovered that extreme weather conditions can lead to a more pronounced degradation of the systems. 

The most significant, long-term performance losses occurred after the panels encountered hail that was at least one inch in diameter, winds that were 56 miles per hour or higher, and snow that was at minimum 3.2 feet deep. 

However, the agency wrote that outages below the aforementioned threshold "have a minimal impact on most systems" and that "the median outage length after an extreme weather event was two to four days, resulting in only a 1% median loss in annual performance."

Scientists believe this data is not alarming and will assist in the development of more resilient technology going forward, with the known benefits of solar unchanged. 

"PV has demonstrated that it can provide backup power and save lives when surrounding infrastructure is damaged by extreme weather events. Yet, there are further measures we can take to improve the quality of equipment and especially installation best practices to increase resilience," Dirk Jordan, a member of the research staff at the NREL, said in a statement.

Jordan added that standardizing installation practices to include through-bolting and the mounting panels in less wind-prone areas of structures could assist with mitigating the issue. The NREL has a pre-storm checklist to help ensure that solar power will be available in the event of severe weather, which has become more frequent as our planet warms.  

In October, the agency also released its findings about pollen and dust accumulation on solar panels, noting that these natural elements may be affecting the ability of the technology to perform at its highest level.

While more research must be done to fully understand the impact of this and other factors, the latest findings may suggest the solution won't have to be a major undertaking, with the 0.75% national median loss in performance reportedly "confirming similar values reported by previous studies that analyzed smaller data sets."   

"This median loss in performance is a crucial number," said Chris Deline, an author of the PV Fleet study and NREL group manager for PV field performance. "First, it shows that our fleet of PV systems, on the whole, is not failing catastrophically, but rather degrading at a modest rate within expectations."

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