NREL Breaks Solar Panels (So Yours Won't) (Text Version)

See how NREL researchers designed a machine to mimic the effect of years of outdoor exposure to wind in only a few hours or days. The goal is to understand why solar panels might break and design better panels.

Narrator: Solar panels are built to last decades. Thanks to NREL scientists like Tim, who have a long history of destroying solar panels.

Tim: I study the way solar panels wear out and break down outside. So my job is to break solar panels.

Narrator: Not only are NREL scientists constantly finding new ways to make solar cells—they're finding creative ways to break them, too, to test their reliability.

And while their latest contraption looks like it belongs at a heavy metal concert, it is actually designed to reveal how tiny, invisible cracks can add up to long-term damage.

Tim: It’s easy to cause invisible damage, and much harder to figure out what the long-term effects are. And this new test is about figuring out those long-term effects.

Narrator: Informed by computer simulations of wind in real power plants, Tim and his team use speakers to drive pressure cycles. They can run a million realistic pressure cycles a day to speed up the testing process—cutting patience out of the equation.

Tim: We’re wearing out cracks that are already there. That gets us closer to understanding how things are really gonna play out outside.

Narrator: This kind of accelerated testing helps the scientists who make the solar panels understand what stresses they need to design their materials around. Which helps the industry put higher-quality, more reliable panels on the market.

Tim: Better tests mean better predictions and better products. When it comes to solar panels, we break them better so that manufacturers can make them better.