Shady Deals at MIT a Benefit to Solar PV

A team of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has won US$225,000 for developing an integrated chip that can recover up to twice as much wasted energy from shaded solar cells.

The MIT team, ‘Unified Solar’, developed the power balancing device to work at the cell-level, which enables finer tuning according to the individual characteristics of each solar cell. Despite some people possibly arguing that ‘all solar cells are the same’, the ability to individually tailor the power balancing of each cell can result in significantly increased energy savings for consumers.

The chip eliminates the need for external energy storage and integrates all other components onto a single chip that can be manufactured at low cost. Albert Chan, an MIT graduate student and member of Unified Solar, adds: “No one has ever thought of using the solar cell as energy storage itself, and that’s what we’re effectively doing”.

Not only can the technology increase overall energy collection but also improve the reliability of cells by reducing the chance of damage caused by under-performing cells.

It may however be a while until consumers see the benefits of their work on Australian soil. The team has so far only demonstrated a working prototype, which earned a best technical presentation award at the 2014 Applied Power Electronics Conference and Exposition.

The prize money from the MIT Clean Energy Prize (CEP) aims to further develop the technology and launch the company, with pilot testing in outdoor PV systems being scheduled for completion in 2015.

Module shading is an issue that has typically been dealt with on a string level, with overall performance optimised for a large group of series connected PV modules. However, recent technological advancements focusing on cell- or module-based solutions, such as microinverters for optimising individual PV modules, have gained traction in the market and are set to become more of an industry norm.

Top Image Credit: MIT News

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John Rodriguez

John regularly contributes original technology articles to Solar Choice News. He is a PhD candidate in solar PV engineering at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), having graduated with First Class Honours in a Bachelor of Engineering (UNSW, specialising in PV). His knowledge of and passion for renewables technology led to him receiving the federally-funded Australian Postgraduate Award and Engineering Research Award for research excellence, in addition to being a Co-operative Program scholar during his undergraduate studies. John also works as an energy efficiency and process engineer and analyst.
John Rodriguez