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Are your PV panels keeping up with the Jones'?

Posted by Lisa Clark on 19 September 2010 at 5:45 pm

Ten years ago, awkward dinner conversations focused on one-upmanship around mobile technology.  Nowadays, conversations might turn to how much power your neighbour's solar PV panels are generating compared to your own.  One might start quoting panel specifications, IV curves and inverter efficiency, but realistically how does that all relate to physical performance? 

With little data collected from solar PV installations across the UK, it is no wonder that the answers to these questions are simply not known.  This is where the Sheffield Solar Farm steps into the breech. 

The Sheffield Solar Farm is an innovative research project at the University of Sheffield, aimed at testing solar PV panels on a roof in Sheffield and disseminating the results to the public.  After the dramatic launch of the Farm in August with Nick Clegg, MP of Sheffield Hallam, the Farm is now publishing data from the solar panels on its website.

The Farm consists of 54 crystalline silicon panels (around 70 square meters) connected to the grid,  which will generate around 10kW per year (two to three houses worth of electricity). In addition, there is a research test-bed, which is comprised of thin-film amorphous silicon panels, hybrid technologies, CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenium) panels and research cells hot from the laboratory.  The Farm is working hard with industry to add to this list of technologies.

Alongside the panels sits a weather station which measures the temperature, wind velocity and rainfall, as well as both the direct and diffuse solar irradiance.  There is even a webcam, so that web users can see what the weather is like on the Farm.

In reality, though, detailed information about the panels in Sheffield is probably not representative of panel performance in either Glasgow or Plymouth, for example. This is where the Farm is looking for help from the public, from both residential and commercial users.

The Farm is asking photovoltaic users to come forward with data from their own installations, along with specifications of the panels and location.  Armed with data from solar PV installations of all sizes across the country, our network of researchers will analyse the data over the coming year and correlate it with weather data from the Met Office. This is not a trivial task and information about each installation be useful to build up a picture of which technologies are performing well across the UK.

This project is not designed to be a Which! report of solar panels, rather to provide an understanding of the differences between technologies. While one technology might perform well in the South, another might perform better in the North. All this information will be fed back to users (present and future) and installers. Indeed, with enough data collected, the Farm intends to reward data loggers with a report of their system's performance and benchmark their installation against other users.

If you are not presently collecting power readings, don't panic, but please help the Farm by starting to read data now! If you have historic data, then this would be most welcome. The Farm hopes that its project will emphasise which technologies perform well in our climate and aims to encourage manufacturers to take the UK's solar power market seriously.

Click the link for information on to how to donate data to the Sheffield Solar Farm.

About the author: Dr Lisa Clark is the knowledge transfer fellow of the Sheffield Solar Farm

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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