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Photovoltaic Testing Lab gets solar grant

April 02, 2008

The future is getting brighter for ASU’s Photovoltaic Testing Laboratory (PTL), as it plays a growing role in testing advanced solar energy systems. PTL recently was awarded an $800,000 grant through the Solar America Initiative to test new solar energy modules.

The Department of Energy’s SAI program, which took form at the request of President George W. Bush, aims to make solar energy cost-competitive with more conventional forms of electricity. The program has the goal of bringing solar energy’s price down to the 5 cents to 10 cents per kilowatt-hour range by 2015.

The ASU grant is one of 11 awarded to university-industry teams in this round of funding. DOE will invest up to $13.7 million over three years in this round.

This is the fifth grant to ASU from the SAI program and the fourth in which PTL is taking part.

“Developing new solar energy technologies is an important task for our nation, and developing the methods and facilities to test these new technologies is an equally important task,” says Stephen Goodnick, ASU’s associate vice president for research. “The SAI grant to the Photovoltaic Testing Laboratory is a commitment to advancing these testing facilities, which will play an integral role in the commercialization process of solar technologies.

“ASU has now received five grants under the SAI program, making ASU one of the top in the nation in terms of awards for solar energy research over the past two years.”

Govindasamy “Mani” TamizhMani, director of the PTL, says the goal of the SAI project is to conduct reliability tests of concentrator photovoltaic (PV) modules. Concentrator PV modules are a specific type of solar energy device that is not as well-developed and tested as flat-plate photovoltaic units.

TamizhMani said PTL is an ideal place to perform these reliability tests. PTL, which is located on ASU’s Polytechnic campus, will be working with two solar energy manufacturers – SolFocus Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., and Soliant Energy Inc. of Pasadena, Calif., – to test the concentrator PV systems.

Specifically, PTL will test modules provided by Soliant and SolFocus and work to shorten the reliability test time from about a year to several months. Data from the SAI tests will allow the manufacturers to certify their products, develop warranty information and see how they measure up against industry standards.

The project aims to fill a need to test the concentrator systems for reliability. These tests typically subject the modules to a wide range of extremes including temperature and other stresses over a relatively short period of time to simulate what they’d experience during their operational lifetimes.

PTL, which includes four environmental chambers, a hail impact tester, two-axis trackers, simulated roofing systems and an ultraviolet exposure test chamber, is one of just a few such facilities worldwide capable of performing these types of tests and is the only accredited PV qualification testing laboratory in the nation.

“We can simulate a lot of weather conditions,” TamizhMani says. “We can simulate the hot and humid conditions of Florida. We can simulate the hot and dry conditions of Arizona, and we can simulate the cold conditions of Alaska. PTL covers temperature ranges from minus-40 degrees Celsius to 90 degrees Celsius (minus-40 degrees Fahrenheit to 194 degrees Fahrenheit).”

The Photovoltaic Testing Laboratory is part of ASU’s Solar Initiative, which brings together ASU expertise and facilities on materials characterization, device fabrication, power system engineering, module system testing and building systems, as well as power conversion, conditioning and control. In addition, ASU has made significant commitments to solar energy, including development and installation of solar energy systems on campus that eventually will provide 4 megawatts to 7 megawatts of power.