Project Name: Enhanced Convection for Higher Module and System Efficiency
Funding Opportunity: PVRD2
SETO Subprogram: Photovoltaics
Location: Portland, OR
SETO Award Amount: $1,040,000
Awardee Cost Share: $115,698
Principal Investigator: Raul Cal

This project is developing new solar photovoltaic (PV) modules and solar system-scale designs that promote a minimum 40 percent increase of the convective heat transfer coefficient. This reduces the operating temperature of PV panels and leads to a higher annual energy yield and a potentially significant increase in the reliability of PV modules over time. Extensive modeling and early-stage experimentation is underway to determine the dynamics of air flow needed to produce vortex generation and flow channeling effects and to reduce overall thermal heterogeneity geographically across the array.

Approach

The research team is developing a thermally coupled numerical framework capable of reproducing the interaction between solar modules and the atmospheric flow. Additionally, a set of new vortex generators and macro-scale flow deflectors will be designed and their performance tested with wind tunnel experiments and numerical simulations. A full-scale validation of the numeric and wind-tunnel experimental outcomes will be carried out in a real-scale solar farm. In parallel, a techno-economic analysis of the gains and costs associated with the proposed new technologies will be developed.

Innovation

This project will develop first-of-its-kind technology that controls the temperature of PV panels using the ambient atmospheric flow. Older methods of temperature regulation have included special surfaces designed to be transparent to certain desired radiation wavelengths and opaque to others. However, this new approach could regulate the temperature of the solar panels at a near constant ambient temperature using turbulent coherent structures, special module frame design, and/or module arrangement within an installation to enhance the natural ventilation. This work could lead to an annual energy yield increase of 5 percent and consequently to a $0.03 drop in the levelized cost of electricity.