Does Solar Panel Cooling Boost Output? (+Video)

solar-panel-cooling

Discover solar panel cooling methods that can help enhance your system’s performance.

Solar panels suffer from a somewhat ironic problem: You need more sun to generate more power, but the hotter the panels get, the less efficient the panels are. This inefficiency means that the sunniest months of the year might hold the most potential, but might not be the most productive months for your solar system. Solar enthusiasts have been searching for ways to get more power from their system for years, and solar panel cooling is a topic frequently discussed.

So, are you looking for ways to increase your solar panel output? Do you like to tinker and explore DIY projects to wring every ounce of performance from your rig? If so, then read on to explore why it is that solar panels have this problem in the first place, some ways in which technology is evolving to cope with the problem and find methods that many DIYers have used to tackle the problem on their own.

Science Behind Solar Panel Efficiency

Of course, every owner wants to get the most out of their solar system. Efficiency is an important consideration for those looking to buy solar panels. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, solar panels are typically rated at “standard test conditions” which imply a 77-degree temperature (25-degrees Celsius). The reason why this is important is that most solar systems are not actually operating at these temperatures, especially in the hotter months. In fact, it is typical for a rooftop installation to rise 90-degrees above the outside temperature. This increase means that on a hot, 90-degree summer day your solar panels are sitting at closer to 180-degrees.

Wow.

Because solar panels tend to lose about .46 percent of power per degree Celsius above their standard test conditions, this will equal up to a 10-25 percent power loss to your solar panel output.

To see how your own system will react to increased temperatures, you’ll need to check the specifications. Buried in your solar panels’ specification sheet (also called ‘spec sheet’ or ‘data sheet’ and which you can always find on your manufacturer’s website) will be a number called the “temperature coefficient” and this number will usually be somewhere between -.2% and -.5% per degree Celsius. A simple calculation should give you your expected performance drop.

What Makes Solar Panels Experience This?

Well, without diving into quantum mechanics, which appears to be a requisite for full understanding (see: temperature dependence of resistivity), suffice to say that the conductive material in solar panels becomes less so as it heats up. From our perspective this makes intuitive sense, and the first (very poor analogy) that we thought of was: how well is water going to flow from A to B if it’s boiling? Not as well! (If you’re technically inclined feel free to unload about this in the comments).

Some newer thin film technologies can reduce this issue as they commonly enjoy a lower temperature coefficient than traditional silicon methods.

Solar Panel Cooling Methods

Considering that solar panels already convert solar rays into electricity at a relatively low rate, suffering through high temperatures on your system can feel like a real wasted opportunity during the sunniest months of the year.  The good news, however, is that solar panel manufacturers are well aware of the issues plaguing their solar panels and are starting to take steps to remedy this problem in the future. If you aren’t that patient, there are also a few cooling methods that can be deployed to give your older system a leg up.

Changes to the Solar Panel Technology

Solar is currently enjoying a period of rapid advancement. Producers are always testing different chemical compounds and manufacturing methods to chase higher and higher efficiency levels and make the technology useful in a wider array of applications. Addressing the core issue of temperature degradation, scientists at Stanford have developed a new method to help remove heat from the equation. Their method involves covering the surface of the panel with a layer of silica glass formed with a specific pattern.

The scientists explain that solar rays contain different wavelengths of light that interact with the panels in a variety of ways.  Visible light is the most efficient at generating electricity while infrared is better at carrying heat.  This patterned layer helps cool the panel by redirecting some of the thermal radiation responsible for heating the panels up in the first place.  Their experiments, although only in a lab setting at this point, were able to show a 23-degree reduction in the temperature of the cells.

Active Cooling Solutions

The most obvious way to cool a solar panel would be to use the same methods that we use to cool anything else: air conditioning, water, refrigeration, etc.  The problem with these methods is that there must be a balance between the energy that each system uses versus the amount of extra production that you’ll get from the system. There would be no point in cooling a solar system if the process to cool it ended up costing more energy than you’re gaining.

There is no doubt about professional solutions for actively cooling your panels, but those of you that are more DIY-inclined should find a lot of joy in creating a simple cooling system on your own. Most of these systems involve small sprayers attached to the top of the panels that connect to a small water pump and temperature probe. Once the panels reach a certain temperature, the pump will turn on and spray down the panels for a short period until they have cooled back down below the temperature threshold. The beauty of this type of system is that they can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make them, but many people report considerable increases in their efficiency.

Always be aware of how you are installing your cooling system, as solar panels obviously have electrical components that can be damaged. And if you are attaching anything directly to the panels, know how these changes could affect your solar panels’ warranty before moving forward.

Check out these examples made by home DIYers:

This example uses a small reservoir and pump located on top of the roof and uses a filter for the water source to prevent any issues with mineral deposits and streaking when the water dries on the panels.

In this example, the DIYer uses a rainwater catch basin for his water source to avoid the tap water issues.

Passive Cooling Solutions

Sometimes the cooling solution for your solar panels doesn’t have to require pumps, sprayers, and sensors.  In these examples, DIYers have figured out that simply changing the environment of their solar panels can help them to produce more power and there is no ongoing maintenance required.

In this example, the DIYer found that he could almost double his output simply by raising his panels off the ground and placing them at an angle to capture natural wind cooling.

These solar panels were put in water which led to a noticeable increase in their output.  If you have a ground system, it would be feasible to craft an underwater cooling solution that wouldn’t require much maintenance!

Conclusion

So we’ve discovered that cooling your solar system is a feasible way to increase its energy output and we’ve looked at a few different methods that others have used to cool their personal systems.  While it might not be for everyone, these types of cooling solutions really touch on the spirit of solar power by continuing to chase the ever-closer goal of self-sufficiency.  If you were not interested in this goal, then you probably wouldn’t even have a solar panel system or be interested in getting more power out of it.

Hopefully, after reading this, you will be excited about exploring the options that are most beneficial to your situation or even speaking with a professional installer about adding options like these once you purchase a new system.  Whatever your outcome, let us know in the comments what you think about solar panel cooling and the unique DIY aspect of the solutions we’ve highlighted!

Image Credit Via Flickr under CC License

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