Solar efficiency records are being broken on a regular basis. Just yesterday (April 9) First Solar announced, for instance, that it produced a 16.1 percent efficient cadmium telluride module, breaking the previous record of a 14.4 percent efficient CdTe module that it set last January. The new record setting device was evaluated by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), which tests all manner of photovoltaic, solar and other renewable energy devices. But the levels were achieved in test conditions, not real world conditions, so even if a device breaks records in testing it might not reach those levels in real life. To get better data on how PV performs in real life, NREL yesterday introduced the Open Solar Performance and Reliability Clearinghouse (O-SPaRC). The initiative will create an open-source database that shows the real-world performance data from solar facilities across the country.
By collecting and sharing the data of real-world solar farm performance, NREL will help investors, project developers and others better understand how a solar array performs. “The O-SPaRC dataset will provide the market with critical data on the long-term performance of residential and commercial solar facilities,” NREL Senior Financial Analyst Michael Mendelsohn said.
“This is an important step to tapping the public capital markets and offers the potential to significantly lower the cost of solar energy,” Mendelsohn said. By providing information about systems’ performance, including information about its modules, inverters, trackers and other equipment, will help potential project investors better understand what the benefits of a proposed project will be including what type of returns it will generate.
“O-SPaRC will improve access to capital by enabling credit rating agencies and potential investors to assess the underlying risk of the asset class,” NREL said. The database will also help the solar industry as it strives to start supporting more projects with low-interest rate investments through securities, bonds and other financing mechanisms. When such funding vehicles become more available it will further drive down the cost of solar, because such financing mechanisms have lower interest rates and longer payback periods than what’s typically offered by banks. NREL said such financing vehicles could include asset-backed securities, master limited partnerships, real estate investment trusts, and various debt products.
The new database is anonymous and is being developed by the SunSpec Alliance, an alliance of various solar companies working on developing standards for the solar industry. The work is being funded by the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. People and companies can register information about their system’s performance here: O-SPaRC sign-up page.