Solar PV tool accurately models panel degradation rates

April 11, 2018 // By Nick Flaherty
Software developed by researchers at the US is making the measurement of the expected lifetime of photovoltaic (PV) systems more reliable, consistent and accurate.

Accurately predicting the longevity of photovoltaic (PV) panels is essential to increase energy production and lower costs. PV module and system degradation have been historically difficult to assess in the industry as performance can be impacted by many variables including ambient weather conditions, seasonal changes, sensor drift and soiling. Extracting system degradation rates previously required years of production data, high accuracy instrumentation and the presence of staff scientists to conduct the evaluation.

The team from the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and industry partners SunPower and kWh Analytics created a modelling tool called RdTools that shows time-series data along with a year-on-year degradation distribution. The same system is analyzed with the clear-sky method (a, above) and sensor-based method with a poorly maintained sensor (b). This clearly shows that high reported degradation is likely caused by sensor drift rather than a degrading PV module.

RdTools combines best practices with years of NREL degradation research to deliver new methodologies that change how solar field production data is evaluated. The software package makes it possible to accurately evaluate PV systems faster, despite common challenges with performance data.

“There’s a high level of interest in this software because it provides user-friendly, accurate, and objective assessments that can help owners make sense of their data,” said Dirk Jordan, engineer and solar PV researcher at NREL. “We spent years building consensus in the industry around a common set of analytical rules. Now PV stakeholders can learn much more about the performance of their technology and improve decision-making on multiple fronts.”

RdTools provides a robust and validated software toolkit for calculating and analyzing PV system performance and degradation over time. The tool can provide key data for manufacturers, engineers, investors and owners who have a stake in system performance, such as identifying under-performing sub-arrays, and quantifying system performance relative to neighbouring systems.
 
For co-developer SunPower, the results of its own data analysis were signficant. “The RdTools method was


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