Solar That Works Better In The Shade

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I’ve experimented with a great number of small, portable solar panels and a variety of sizes meant for permanent installation. When you monitor the voltage and amps coming from a panel, sometimes you’ll see it vastly underperforming compared to its maximum output rating. But if there isn’t a cloud in the sky, and it’s a bright, sunny day outside? You go outside or get on a ladder to see what’s going on. Is there a loose connection? Did a giant bird take a huge dump on your panel?

But, when you get to it, you see that just a small sliver of the panel is in the shade. Maybe there’s a tree branch between it and the sun, or your neighbor’s tree has grown a couple of feet. Maybe a tenth of the panel is shaded at most, but the panel is now putting out almost zero power. Damn!

This is actually a major issue when it comes to solar power generation. When just a tiny sliver of shade can kill off most of the power, and this happens all the time, we’re talking about some serious power losses.

“If you assume the global solar install base was shaded an average of just 1% with a 5% standard deviation, 225 terawatt-hours of energy production was untapped in 2021 due to the limits of today’s solar technology.” said Rohit Kalyanpur, founder and chief executive of Optivolt. “This represents roughly $29B in electricity generation and 11.2 billion kg of carbon emission offsets that went uncaptured. That’s just a conservative estimate, the real figure could be much higher.”

The reason for this issue is that solar cells (a number of cells make up a module or “panel”) need a diode to keep power from leaking away out of them when it’s dark. There’s usually one diode in a junction box on the back of the panel, or worse, a diode in the charge controllers. When some cells are shaded and others are producing power, the shaded cells rob the power away and keep most or all of it from going through the diode and into the batteries, building, or grid.

By replacing these diodes with a more complex module, Optivolt’s Pulse module rebalances the power between the cells in such a way as to minimize or eliminate losses when the shade covers part of the panel. This means that instead of a small percentage of shade robbing the whole panel of productivity, it only drops it 20-30%. This means that panels that see a lot of partial shade can make a lot more power most days.

Here’s a short demo video showing what happens with Pulse compared to normal diodes:

“What excites us about the technology is that it not only produces dramatic improvement for existing solar applications, but it enables the use of solar in new markets that are in dire need of ‘must-work’ critical power, such as 5G infrastructure and industrial IoT,” said Alain Rothstein, partner at Atlas Innovate.

This system could help solar installations of all sizes, and if it gets used enough, can greatly increase the amount of solar power that gets produced without spending more on solar power infrastructure.

Featured image by Optivolt.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

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