A Faster, Cheaper Way To Give Solar Panels a Clean Bill of Health

In the Darkness of Night, NREL Is Prototyping a New Device That Could Cut Time and Costs for Inspections of Solar Installations After Potentially Damaging Weather

Sept. 6, 2023 | By Harrison Dreves | Contact media relations

After severe weather events—like hail or major windstorms—fielded solar panels should be inspected for damage, usually with either complex electrical equipment or by removal for indoor lab testing. Often, these inspections reveal minimal damage but still require system downtime and high costs to confirm their health.

A new system, developed by National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) photovoltaic reliability researchers with input from industry partners, simplifies and streamlines this process by relying on photoluminescence—a fundamental property of the semiconductors in solar cells. The PLatypus device shines light on the solar cells, which then re-emit light back to the device's cameras. Damaged cells will shine less brightly, quickly indicating the health of the panels.

An entire system can be checked at a fraction of the time and cost previously required—all without any disconnection of the system's electronics. The PLatypus device is under development as part of the Durable Module Materials Consortium (DuraMAT), funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office and led by NREL.

Tags: Materials Science,Photovoltaics,Solar