October 17, 2016 – Westford, MA
BrightSpot Automation has delivered its first LoadSpot system for performing durability testing of solar panels. The system has been installed at the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) as part of a program at the US Photovoltaic Manufacturing Consortium (PVMC) based at the University of Central Florida (UCF).
The LoadSpot tool examines the durability of solar panels as affected by the stresses seen in the field from wind and snow loads that apply pressure to the front and rear sides of the panels. Static and cyclic loading tests are required for various panel certification tests such as IEC-61215 and IEC-TS-62782, and the LoadSpot is capable of performing these tests and highly accelerated variations. In addition, the LoadSpot is the only commercially available mechanical load tester to use vacuum and air pressure to apply the loads. In contrast, suction cup based systems can apply the loads unevenly to the panels resulting in more cell cracking under the suction cup locations. Enormous savings in time and effort are achieved when comparing to manual placement of sandbags or bricks for static tests.
Cracked solar cells are a major concern for panel durability and safety, especially since solar cell thickness was greatly reduced in the mid 2000’s to reduce costs. Thin cells are easily cracked due to stresses seen during panel manufacturing, shipping, installation, and heavy front side loads in the field. The metallization across the cracks is often still continuous at the beginning of panel life, but as the panel ages in the field, the metallization gradually becomes discontinuous and the panel power degrades. The ability to image cracks and measure the impact on power while the panel is under load is a unique capability of the LoadSpot, enabled by keeping the front side of the panels unobstructed during the test. The basic idea behind the BrightSpot Predictive Crack Opening Test is that a very small front side pressure (~600 Pa) is sufficient to temporarily open up pre-existing cracks in solar panels without creating new cracks. By taking IV and electroluminescence (EL) measurements in the bent and unbent states and looking at the power difference, one can predict future degradation in the field once those closed cracks eventually do open up. This data can help in factory quality control, product development, sourcing of high quality modules, determination of best shipping and handling procedures, increasing investor confidence, reducing perceived risk, and in auditing of panel quality.
Dr. Andrew Gabor, CTO of BrightSpot: “Some panel manufacturers have superior panel designs and quality control. Others are engaged in a race to the bottom to remain competitive under intense cost pressures and are taking shortcuts with regard to quality and durability. The LoadSpot will empower the top manufacturers to clearly demonstrate the superiority of their products, and it will empower the panel buyers and investors with data to judge the quality of different panels. We have been very pleased with our relationship to date with UCF staff and students, and we are looking forward to working with them to further develop the LoadSpot recipes and capabilities and to prove the value of the BrightSpot Predictive Crack Opening Test.”
Dr. Hubert Seigneur, Program Manager for PVMC: “This project is a perfect example of collaborative industry-academic research. A manufacturer with cutting edge technology, that is interested in publishing, places a tool at an institute and actively engages with students and staff to further develop the tool capabilities, analysis, and understanding of the physical mechanisms. This ensures that we stay focused on industry-relevant research and provides valuable training and guidance for the students. We look forward to presenting our experimental and modeling results at future conferences and in journal publications.”
Joe Walters, Program Director at FSEC: “We have seen widespread interest in the LoadSpot and are eager to test panels from outside groups to help manufacturers and researchers improve panel designs and to help reduce risk for system investors looking to source high quality panels. We also hope that demonstrating the power of the LoadSpot to potential customers will benefit the BrightSpot sales efforts.”
The Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC)—a research institute of the University of Central Florida (UCF)—was created by the Florida Legislature in 1975 to serve as the state’s energy research institute. The main responsibilities of the center are to conduct research, test and certify solar systems, and develop education programs. Further information about FSEC can be found at www.fsec.ucf.edu.
Those interested in testing panels on the LoadSpot should contact Joe Walters at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About BrightSpot Automation, LLC
BrightSpot Automation builds innovative manufacturing and measurement tools with a focus on improving solar panel durability and performance. The company is based in Westford, MA.