Naval Research Lab Develops Solar Sensor For Field Use


Research scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory's (NRL) Electronics Science and Technology Division says they have developed a low-cost spectral sensor for field analysis of solar cell irradiance performance and spectral distribution.

Spectral radiometers are widely used to measure the spectrum of emitted, transmitted or reflected light of a given material. According to the NRL, current spectral radiometers generally require sophisticated optical components for beam forming and diffraction, refined electronic components for the signal readout, or moving parts that contribute to inefficient power consumption and high production costs.

‘We have invented a novel minimum size, ultra-low power spectral radiometer unit with integrated data storage functionality and a battery lifetime of up to several years,’ says Raymond Hoheisel of NRL's Solid State Devices Section in a statement. ‘In addition, the system can be produced at the expense of under $20 and features very high sensitivity and linearity.’

The new sensor system can be used in remote solar radiation monitoring applications such as mobile solar power units as well as in long-term environmental monitoring systems where high precision and low power consumption is a necessity. Mobile solar power units have been recognized as a promising route toward decreasing the dependence of the military on fossil fuel generated power.

‘A challenge to research of long-term expeditionary devices was we had no information regarding when, and how long, mobile solar power units were in the sun,’ Hoheisel says. ‘These units have a dynamic range of 0.01 – 2 suns measured in 30-second intervals, a data capacity of 128 megabytes, an average power consumption of 100 microwatts and an independent real-time clock.’

The U.S. Marine Corps' (USMC) Expeditionary Energy Office (E2O) developed and prototyped the PV sensor system to meet the service's need for high-efficiency solar panels that can be used in the field with rechargeable batteries to provide power in the field. The USMC E2O and the Office of Naval Research's Expeditionary and Irregular Warfare Office contributed to this research.

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