Waterloo Researchers Say Algorithm Could Increase Efficiency Of PV Panels

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Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario say they have developed a way to better harness the volume of energy collected by solar panels.

In a new study, the researchers came up with an algorithm that increases the efficiency of solar PV systems and reduces the volume of power currently being wasted due to a lack of effective controls.

“We’ve developed an algorithm to further boost the power extracted from an existing solar panel,” explains Milad Farsi, a PhD candidate in Waterloo’s Department of Applied Mathematics. “Hardware in every solar panel has some nominal efficiency, but there should be some appropriate controller that can get maximum power out of solar panels.

“We do not change the hardware or require additional circuits in the solar PV system,” Farsi continues. “What we developed is a better approach to controlling the hardware that already exists.”

The new algorithm enables controllers to better deal with fluctuations around the maximum power point of a solar PV system – which have historically led to wasting potential energy collected by panels, the researchers say.

“Based on the simulations, for a small home-use solar array including 12 modules of 335 W, up to 138.9 kWh/year can be saved,” says Farsi, who undertook the study with his supervisor, Professor Jun Liu of Waterloo’s Department of Applied Mathematics. “The savings may not seem significant for a small home-use solar system but could make a substantial difference in larger-scale ones, such as a solar farm or in an area including hundreds of thousands of local solar panels connected to the power grid.

“Taking Canada’s largest PV plant, for example, the Sarnia Photovoltaic Power Plant, if this technique is used, the savings could amount to 960,000 kWh/year, which is enough to power hundreds of households. If the saved energy were to be generated by a coal-fired plant, it would require emission of 312 [metric tons] of CO2 into the atmosphere,” continues Farsi.

Farsi further points out that the savings could be even more substantial under a fast-changing ambient environment, such as Canadian weather conditions, or when the power loss in the converters due to the undesired chattering effects seen in other conventional control methods is taken into account.

The study, “Nonlinear Optimal Feedback Control and Stability Analysis of Solar Photovoltaic Systems,” authored by Waterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics researchers Farsi and Liu, was recently published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Control Systems Technology.

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