Research, Sustainability

UNSW study reveals climate change impacts PV modules degrading

A new University of New South Wales (UNSW) study shows photovoltaic (PV) modules will lose efficiency and cost more to produce in Australia’s hotter regions.

Industrial large-scale PV modules are being rolled out across the country as solar technology is expected to become one of the largest sources of renewable energy worldwide by 2026.

Shifts in temperatures brought on by climate change means that solar panels are at greater risk of degradation due to prolonged exposure to the harsh outdoor conditions.

UNSW researchers new modelling highlights the need to consider the evolving climate in PV module design.

The findings show degradation on future PV module will result in up to 12 per cent increase in power loss – leading to approximately 10 per cent rise in future energy prices by 2059. These findings have been published in the journal Progress in Photovoltaics: Research and Applications.

Lead author of the study and postdoctoral research fellow at the UNSW school of photovoltaics and renewable energy engineering, Shukla Podda said “Large scale commercial PV modules have a typical lifespan of about 20 to 25 years, although they naturally degrade or lose their efficiency overtime.”

Climate change issues continue to be at the forefront of industry concerns.

The study looked at three degradation mechanisms that are typically observed in silicon modules. Hydrolysis degradation which considers temperature and relative humidity, thermal degradation which takes into account changes in temperature of the module and photo degradation which factors in UV radiation temperature and humidity.

Dr Fiacre Rougieux, co-author of the study and lecturer in the school of photovoltaic and renewable energy engineering said “We can see that climate stressors are becoming more extremes and as a result PV modules are likely to being replaced more frequently in some regions.”

The study found module degradation rates were higher in regions with hot and humid climates, such as northern parts of Australia compared to central Australia where the degradation rate increase was smaller due to the drier weather conditions and lower humidity of the region.

While the researchers identified that thermal degradation is Australia’s main degradation precursor, further research should focus on reducing the extent of thermal cycling in modules.

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