Climate conditions affect solar cell performance more than expected

December 13, 2017, Cell Press
This GIF shows how the difference in performance between the two solar cells vary over time. Credit: Ian Marius Peters

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers can now predict how much energy solar cells will produce at any location worldwide. Surprisingly, they identified that two types of solar cells (silicon and cadmium telluride) can vary in energy output by 5% or more in tropical regions, where most of the emerging solar cell markets are located. This gap occurs because solar energy can shift depending on local temperature and water in the atmosphere. Their work, appearing December 13 in the journal Joule and developed into an open-source tool, emphasizes that solar products may behave differently depending on their environment.

"We've explored the convergence of two things, location and technology, to come up with a framework for predicting solar panel ," says senior author Tonio Buonassisi, an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT. "If you have a new solar technology, you can see where your technology might be able to outcompete commercial silicon ."

To demonstrate how their framework works, the researchers combined real data from solar located in the United States (Perrysburg, Ohio) and Singapore with 1 year of satellite weather data to map where solar cells would work best outdoors. With this data, they analyzed two : silicon (commonly used in solar cells) and cadmium telluride (thin-film competitor material).

The researchers found that the cadmium telluride solar cells produced up to 5% more energy than silicon ones in the hot, humid Singaporean location. Similar trends can be expected for other materials with a higher electronic band gap like gallium arsenide or metal-halide perovskites.

"Tools used by developers to predict energy yields of solar panels and plan solar systems are often expensive and inaccurate," says first author Ian Marius Peters, a research associate at the MIT Photovoltaics Research Laboratory (@MITPVLab). "They're inaccurate because they were developed for temperate climates like the United States, Europe, and Japan."

Interested users will be able to download the online tool the researchers developed, and then plug in their own locations and performance information for different types of solar cells. This allows users to determine either where their solar cell would work best or what type of solar cell they should use in their location. This is a different way of thinking about solar cells, which are normally described in terms of how much energy they can produce in lab conditions, rather than in use in a specific environment.

"The takeaway is you should decide what type of solar cell you're using based on the type of climate in your area," says Peters. "There are reasons to use silicon, and there are reasons to use other technologies, like . Outdoor conditions can become one of the most important factors for determining future research."

Explore further: Newest solar cells underperform in cloudy countries

More information: Joule, Peters et al.: "Global Prediction of Photovoltaic Field Performance Differences - A Study Using Open-Source Satellite Data" http://www.cell.com/joule/fulltext/S2542-4351(17)30183-6 , DOI: 10.1016/j.joule.2017.11.012

Related Stories

Newest solar cells underperform in cloudy countries

August 22, 2017

To determine how efficient new solar cells convert sunlight into electricity, small sample cells are tested under ideal conditions. However, the reported efficiency is not very representative of the actual annual yield when ...

New way to make low-cost solar cell technology

November 14, 2016

Researchers at ANU have found a new way to fabricate high efficiency semi-transparent perovskite solar cells in a breakthrough that could lead to more efficient and cheaper solar electricity.

New efficiency record for low-cost solar cell

April 4, 2017

Researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) have achieved a new record efficiency for low-cost semi-transparent perovskite solar cells in a breakthrough that could bring down the cost of generating solar electricity.

Semi-transparent perovskite solar cells for solar windows

May 22, 2017

Scientists are exploring ways to develop transparent or semi-transparent solar cells as a substitute for glass walls in modern buildings with the aim of harnessing solar energy. But this has proven challenging, because transparency ...

Glasses generate power with flexible organic solar cells

August 3, 2017

Organic solar cells are flexible, transparent and lightweight, and can be manufactured in arbitrary shapes or colors. Thus, they are suitable for a variety of applications that cannot be realized with conventional silicon ...

Recommended for you

Cryptocurrency rivals snap at Bitcoin's heels

January 14, 2018

Bitcoin may be the most famous cryptocurrency but, despite a dizzying rise, it's not the most lucrative one and far from alone in a universe that counts 1,400 rivals, and counting.

Top takeaways from Consumers Electronics Show

January 13, 2018

The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, which concluded Friday in Las Vegas, drew some 4,000 exhibitors from dozens of countries and more than 170,000 attendees, showcased some of the latest from the technology world.

Finnish firm detects new Intel security flaw

January 12, 2018

A new security flaw has been found in Intel hardware which could enable hackers to access corporate laptops remotely, Finnish cybersecurity specialist F-Secure said on Friday.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.