For winter-proof solar panels

This text is part of the special Research section: climate issues

Researchers from the University of Sherbrooke will monitor and analyze the performance of solar panels in winter over the next three years. A project that will open new avenues in the field of renewable energies in Quebec.

When we think of solar panels, we mainly think of sun and heat. Photovoltaic panels, which produce electricity using light captured by the sun, are not spontaneously associated with Quebec. Indeed, the northern regions of the globe, which experience snowy winter seasons, are considered less suitable for these systems than regions where winters are milder.

However, this idea needs to be qualified. It is with this in mind that a research team from the University of Sherbrooke is preparing to monitor the state and activity of solar panels for a period of three years, as part of a project called OLAF.

The OLAF project

This project has clear objectives, as explained by Sylvain Nicolay, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering at the Interdisciplinary Institute of Technological Innovation (3IT) at the University of Sherbrooke. “The goal is to dispel the belief that in Quebec, solar panels do not work. Which is completely false. » Then, we must find the technology best suited to the Quebec climate, and which offers the best performance.

The project will also make it possible to determine what are the best practices to adopt, indicates Sylvain Nicolay. For example, do you have to clear snow from the sign every day? If so, how much does it cost in relation to what we produce?

A series of solar panels selected according to their characteristics will be installed within the photovoltaic park of the University of Sherbrooke. They will be equipped with sensors and cameras that can measure snow cover and temperature.

As Sylvain Nicolay explains, the analysis will be possible thanks to the data collected. “The objective is to correlate the measured data of climatic conditions with the measured power data provided by the solar panels. »

The University of Sherbrooke is supported by French partners, such as the National Center for Scientific Research and the company TotalEnergie. The latter, which follows the different stages of the project, has even sent employees to the research team in Sherbrooke. The Quebec company Stace will provide the solar panels necessary for the research. The budget for the three years of the project is $2 million.

Does snow affect the efficiency of solar panels?

This is what the research project will attempt to analyze. According to Sylvain Nicolay, snow can be a problem because it covers the solar panel. But technologies evolve and adapt to their environment. “If you take bifacial solar panels, they will be able to capture light with their two faces, in particular thanks to the reflection of the sun on the snow,” explains the researcher. He adds that these devices can even melt nearby snow because the panel heats up, producing electricity.

Furthermore, a study carried out over five years in Alberta shows, for example, that the loss of energy linked to snow accumulation would be barely 4%. And, contrary to popular belief, the amount of sunshine in southern Quebec is much higher than that of certain regions of Europe. “A solar panel in southern Quebec, despite the snow, will produce more electricity than a panel in Paris or Berlin,” explains the expert. Installing solar panels in southern Quebec makes absolute sense. »

Project stages

“Our deadline is to have everything installed before winter, so we can take measurements when the snow arrives. We hope that everything will be ready for October. » But if winter proves to be capricious, the University will be able to simulate it using artificial snow. In the spring, data will be collected and correlated, and an observation period will begin again the following winter. The experience will be repeated for a third and final winter. Ultimately, the team will be able to establish economic projections for this type of installation.

But the challenge for putting the results of this research project into practice is significant. “We will have to act quickly to ask ourselves how to integrate renewable energies in Quebec. It’s a real paradigm shift. Centralized modes of production, such as hydroelectric dams, are no longer adapted to current needs. » Research will inform governments in their future strategic decisions.

This content was produced by the Special Publications team at Duty, relating to marketing. The writing of the Duty did not take part.

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