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Team Offutt’s Solar Power Testing

An Air Force Institute of Technology research team is conducting an experimental evaluation of photovoltaic technology on Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska is one of 37 sites chosen worldwide to participate in an experimental evaluation of photovoltaic technology and the potential for its application to the Air Force. The research aims to establish the potential for monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicone photovoltaic technology. (Courtesy Photo)

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --

Offutt is one of 37 sites chosen worldwide to participate in an experimental evaluation of photovoltaic technology and the potential for its application to the Air Force. 

The study began in June 2017 by an Air Force Institute of Technology research team and will continue for a year.

The research aims to establish the potential for monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicone photovoltaic technology, which together represent 70 - 90 percent of the market share, across the enterprise.

 

Basically, the research wants to be able to tell any Air Force location approximately how efficient a panel at their site will be based on observed, not theoretical, data.

 

The researchers also want to measure the impact of ambient temperature on this type of technology. There are currently five different published correlation coefficients for monocrystalline silicone technology showing disagreement amongst the industry and higher academics.

 

Researchers will also be looking for a statistical correlation between ambient humidity and photovoltaic performance.  It’s known that humidity affects irradiance, but no study has carried that through to actual photovoltaic performance, much less accounted for the additional impacts of humidity besides effects on irradiance.

 

The study will assess flat panel performance and is driven by a specific application: solar pavement. Since pavement is flat, this is how they must be tested, in Offutt’s case, the panels are located on a flat rooftop.

Depending on the strength of the material, ideally a base could replace any pavements (even airfield pavement) with a solar pavement product. More realistic implementation might see these being put on parking lots and sidewalks initially. Conceptually energy resilience can be maximized for any facility on base by tying the solar pavements into the grid. Another possibility is using these as part of decentralized micro grids (current research being conducted at AFIT) for each facility.

For this specific phase of the research, it is just looking at the two types of silicon-based panels, mono- and poly-crystalline, since they make up the vast majority of market share. Future research might look at other types, but that would be up to the researchers to design a compatible panel node for use with the current test systems or design a new one.

This research may open up some potential projects for the future, but first information is needed to arm decision-makers. The work is aiming to characterize performance of the flat panel orientation in various climate types, temperature and humidity ranges while future efforts can look at material strength, cost analysis, alternate panel types, etc. The end state is the ability to determine whether it might make a suitable project for any given location on the globe.

The amount of power produced varies widely by site.  A compilation of Offutt's production shows the potential storage for the month of June was 4.5 KW (mono-crystalline) and 15.6 KW (poly-crystalline), and the potential storage for the month of July and August was 15.3 KW (poly-crystalline). 

Depending on the results of the study, a project using the technology being tested could be used here in the future to enhance Offutt’s energy resiliency and produce electricity using a renewable resource.