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Solar Array Saves Money Now, Lays Groundwork for Next-generation Technology

Argonne solar array provides renewable power, saving about $9,400 in taxpayer funds and 94 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, while doubling as a test bed for scientific research.

By Diana Anderson, Writer/ Editor, Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne National Laboratory recently constructed a 95 kW solar array on its campus. The solar farm provides renewable power for the laboratory's Emergency Operations Center, saving about $9,400 and 94 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. The solar array also doubles as a test bed for scientific research.

Argonne nanoscientist Seth Darling is using the new solar array to study how various types of solar panels perform in the Midwest region. “There’s an absence of good, objective performance comparative data, particularly in the Midwest,” said Darling. “That sort of information is good for everyone to have — homeowners, business owners, and so on.”

Argonne has already partnered with the Illinois Tollway on a joint energy study focusing on solar panel research. Argonne’s Midwest Photovoltaic Analysis Facility Initiative, of which Seth Darling is a part, studies multiple solar panel technologies located at the Illinois Tollway’s Downers Grove headquarters. The goal of the initiative is to evaluate how solar technologies perform in the Midwest region under various environmental conditions.

“We’re using six to eight different types of panel technologies in our research partnership with the Illinois Tollway,” said Darling. “So, we’re getting some good data, but not very strong statistics because there are such a small number of panels in the study.”

To alleviate this problem, Darling worked with Argonne’s Sustainability Program Office to have a variety of solar panel technologies installed as part of the laboratory’s on-site solar farm infrastructure. Argonne’s solar array is ten times larger than the array located at the Tollway’s headquarters and it uses three types of panel technologies.

“Argonne’s larger solar array will enable us to collect more reliable data,” said Darling. “We’ve also set up lots of weather data-gathering technology stations as part of the solar array.”

Weather data will be collected as part of Darling’s solar panel performance study. Each solar panel is equipped with a temperature sensor, dynamometers will measure wind, and pyrometers will measure sunlight or insolation — the measure of solar radiation energy received on a surface area.

“One of the things we’d like to determine is which types of panels perform better in higher or lower levels of light,” said Darling.

The Midwest’s seasonal weather fluctuations make solar harvesting a challenging activity, but researchers like Darling are attempting to determine which types of panels perform better in the region. This type of data is essential for determining the future of next-generation solar technology and can directly affect the course of the market to come. 

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robert levy February 11, 2013 at 06:55 AM
"but in this case we do have data since the 1960's that has shown solar energy to not be financially feasible in the midwest. That's a fact." Not really... I have friend's with a now, one year old array. At present pace, they expect a 6-7 year return on investment for a system with an 18-22 year life span.
Olddeegee February 11, 2013 at 08:01 AM
Your "facts" are wrong. Solar is an investment, one of many, that is growing in research breakthroughs that are showing huge leaps forward (carbon nano-tube technology most recently). Your accusation of Buffet is a political attack that has been echoed by the right-leaning media because it goes against their far more subsidized corporate oil partners. A larger portion of money can be shifted from the fossil fuel industry to other energy endeavors at a far higher payout, if we follow it up and continue the support. The Bush/Cheney years were a wasted time that could have put us far ahead of our international rivals, but oil was all they cared about so they gutted any programs that supported alternative energies. This is documented fact. That was the waste here, not a limited failure of a few small endeavors.
Barry Allen February 11, 2013 at 11:33 AM
The fact is that we don’t know what that $9,400 in annual savings represents. Is it the difference in a year’s worth of electricity bills before and after? Is it that difference less the cost of the PV array (spread over its expected lifespan)? Is it that difference, less array cost, less the cost of money for the investment? The cost of an installed 95kW PV array (exclusive of government subsidies) is about $522,500, so, until I see some details on where that $9,400 annual savings figure comes from I’m going to doubt that it is a realistic number.
Gert February 11, 2013 at 12:53 PM
^would it be safe to assume that you are trying to ride that subsidized solar gravy train , too?
Matilda B February 12, 2013 at 01:04 PM
I am happy to see that we are doing more study of energy alternatives. It is essential to our country and progress. Information, research and development is worth the investment. I totally support it. Our Earth needs it, our country needs it, and we need it

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