Engineering 101

New Algorithm Could Increase Efficiency of Solar Panels

By Dawn Allcot

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As consumers and businesses, alike, move toward solar power as a way to reduce electric costs and live more sustainably, one challenge has been the efficiency of today’s solar panel designs.

Now, researchers at the University of Waterloo have developed a way to better harness the volume of energy collected by solar panels.

In a new study, the researchers developed an algorithm that increases the efficiency of the solar photovoltaic (PV) system and reduces the volume of power currently being wasted due to a lack of effective controls.

“We’ve developed an algorithm to further boost the power extracted from an existing solar panel,” said Milad Farsi, a Ph.D. candidate in Waterloo’s Department of Applied Mathematics. “Hardware in every solar panel has some nominal efficiency, but there should be some appropriate controller that can get maximum power out of solar panels.”

Without changing the hardware or requiring additional circuits in the solar PV system, the researchers developed a better approach to control existing hardware. The new algorithm enables controllers to better deal with fluctuations around the maximum power point of a solar PV system, which have historically led to the wasting of potential energy collected by panels.

“Based on the simulations, for a small home-use solar array including 12 modules of 335W, up to 138.9 kWh/year can be saved,” said Farsi, who undertook the study with his supervisor, Professor Jun Liu of Waterloo’s Department of Applied Mathematics. “The savings may not seem significant for a small home-use solar system but could make a substantial difference in larger-scale ones, such as a solar farm or in an area including hundreds of thousands of local solar panels connected to the power grid.

Farsi also said savings could be amplified in a fast-changing ambient environment, such as Canadian weather conditions, or when calculations take into account the power loss in the converters due to the undesired chattering effects seen in conventional control methods.

Source: University of Waterloo

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