If you are looking for a direct comparison between different or competing brands of solar panels in Australia, you would be wise to visit the Desert Knowledge Australia Solar Centre. With funding from the Australian Government and oversight and management by the Northern Territory Government, the DKA Solar Centre is an initiative that has been running an impressive experiment in Alice Spring. At the time of this writing, 26 separate solar panel technologies are being tested for their performance in heat, cold, rain, clouds, and sunshine. The map at the top right of this article shows where the solar panels on display at the DKA Solar Centre are located in relation to one another.
Write your own Solar Panel review based on a living database of solar system performance
The DKA Solar Centre website is an online, interactive database that displays and records live weather data and performance data from each type of solar system that they have on site. In addition to the statistical information, there are also two cameras positioned in the bushland around the Solar Centre: these allow you to actually take a look at the weather conditions in which the systems are performing.
The physical Desert Knowledge Solar Centre itself is set up in such a way so as to be of use both as a resource for people shopping around for residential solar power systems, as well as for students of renewable and photovoltaic energy technologies. It is a demonstration facility for commercialised solar technologies–you’ll be able to recognise a number of household brand names on the Australian solar power scene.
Solar Panel Comparisons: How to navigate the DKA Solar Centre database
Here’s a walk-through of how Desert Knowledge Australia’s solar panel monitoring system works. First, go to the DKA Solar Centre map, then click on the arrow at the top right of the screen that says ‘The Data’. Once you do that, you can navigate the site as follows.
Solar System comparisons: Limits of what the Solar Centre can tell you
Although the DKA Solar Centre is a useful resource for anyone who wants to check out their options before installing a solar power system, it does have a number of limitations. First of all, only a portion of the panels that are available on the market can be found on the site, so you may not be able to find every panel that you would like to compare and review. For example, it was surprising to find that there are no Suntech panels on display, despite Suntech’s prominent place in Australia’s (not to mention the world’s) solar power industry.
One other thing you’ll want to keep in mind while perusing the site is that the conditions in which the solar panels on exhibition may not be the same as your own. REC/STC zones were drawn as they are for a reason: Some locations are sunnier than others, not just in terms of how the sun moves through the sky (based on latitude), but also in terms of how often the sky is clouded over. Alice Springs’s solar power-friendly climate makes it a great testing ground for how well particular panels will perform if given the chance to shine!
Written by James Martin
© 2011 Solar Choice Pty Ltd
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He holds a master's degree in Environmental Management from UNSW, and a bachelor's degree in Philosophy from Bridgewater State University in his native Massachusetts.