Using artificial ground reflectors to boost the efficacy of solar panels

Boosting the efficacy of solar panels
(A) Photo of NREL’s bifacial experimental single-axis tracking (BEST) field with reflecting material installed (100% coverage case) and (B) measured spectral reflectivity of high-albedo material with photo of sample (inset). Credit: Progress in Photovoltaics: Research and Applications (2024). DOI: 10.1002/pip.3811

Solar energy is a crucial asset in the fight against climate change, and researchers at the University of Ottawa have devised a smart approach to optimize its effectiveness. Their innovative method includes incorporating artificial ground reflectors, a simple yet powerful enhancement.

The researchers found that by integrating these reflectors into solar setups, they could improve the system’s energy production and efficiency, making such projects more economically viable. This discovery is significant in assessing the costs and benefits of using artificial reflectors in solar energy ventures.

To study how reflective ground covers affect solar energy output, the University of Ottawa’s SUNLAB, led by electrical engineering professor Karin Hinzer, who is also vice-dean research of the Faculty of Engineering, collaborated with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. The study, which was conducted by electrical engineering doctoral candidate Mandy Lewis in Golden, Colorado, found that placing reflective surfaces under solar panels can increase their energy output by up to 4.5%.

“We found that highly reflective white surfaces can boost solar power output,” explains Mandy Lewis, the paper’s lead author. “Critically, these reflectors should be placed directly under the solar panels, not between rows, to maximize this benefit.”

Unlocking solar potential in Canada and beyond

These findings are particularly significant in Canada, where snow cover persists for three to four months of the year in major cities like Ottawa and Toronto, and 65% of the country’s vast landmass experiences snow cover for over half the year. Bifacial solar systems, paired with high-ground reflectivity, offer tremendous potential in these regions. Additionally, given that approximately 4% of the world’s land areas are classified as sandy deserts, this finding has global applications.

According to Lewis, ” his research is crucial for maximizing solar energy production in geographically diverse locations. Furthermore, by generating more power per unit of land area, reflectors are ideal for densely populated areas, like city centers, where space limitations exist for solar installations.”

This research will contribute significantly to the global transition to zero-emission power sources. These findings hold particular value for Canada and other countries that are typically cloudy since power gains of 6.0% were observed in cloudy Seattle compared to 2.6% in arid Tucson.

The paper is published in the journal Progress in Photovoltaics: Research and Applications.

More information:
Mandy R. Lewis et al, Artificial ground reflector size and position effects on energy yield and economics of single‐axis‐tracked bifacial photovoltaics, Progress in Photovoltaics: Research and Applications (2024). DOI: 10.1002/pip.3811

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Using artificial ground reflectors to boost the efficacy of solar panels (2024, May 7)
retrieved 7 May 2024
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