HOUGHTON (AP) - Researchers at Michigan Technological University are trying to figure out if solar power generation that works in the sunny South can function in the snowy North.
A two-year-study underway at the Houghton school's Keweenaw Research Center seeks to measure how snow affects solar panels' power generation.
The international engineering company DNV GL is helping underwrite the project, Michigan Tech spokeswoman Marcia Goodrich said in a statement. She said the company specializes in "large energy - and sustainability-related projects."
Solar energy scientist Joshua Pearce, left, and Jay Meldrum, director of the Keweenaw Research Center, stand next to the array of solar panels behind the center in Calumet Township in October. Researchers at Michigan Tech are trying to figure out if solar power generation can work in cold-weather settings as well as in the sunny South. (AP photo)
The company has built an array of solar photovoltaic panels behind the research center set at different angles. The panel settings range from horizontal to 45 degrees.
"If you tilt them at 60 degrees, almost no snow sticks to the panels, but you also lose a lot of sunlight when they are not facing the sky," said Tim Townsend, a DNV GL engineer.
He said that earlier studies show that year-round power losses because of snow can range from a few percent to 18 percent.
Goodrich said Townsend's group developed a model to predict how snowfall and related factors affect energy generation. Tests are underway in California, Colorado and Pennsylvania as well as at Michigan Tech.
"We do predictions on behalf of commercial lenders being asked to foot the bill for big solar arrays," said Townsend. Good information "makes them more financeable."
The Keweenaw Research Center also plans to apply lessons learned from the test solar panels, said center Director Jay Meldrum.
"Michigan Tech will be going full bore on stopping snow losses," Meldrum said.
"Everybody who wants to develop solar energy in snowy climates on a large scale will need this data," said associate professor Joshua Pearce, a participant in the project. "In the olden days, you'd only see solar farms in places like Arizona, and Spain. Now, large solar installations are found throughout the northern US and Canada."