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Sandia lab moves forward on creating regional solar test centers

Mockup of a Sandia solar regional test centerSolar works, that’s a fact. But how well it works and which solar technology works best where is still being figured out. To make that process easier the Sandia National Laboratory is building out five regional test centers across the U.S. to test and demonstrate different solar technologies in different locations to answer the question for potential investors and project developers.

“Try to take out a loan out for a billion dollars to build a utility-scale plant,” said Joshua Stein, a distinguished member of the technical staff at the lab. “If you can increase the confidence in the future energy production of that plant by a fraction of a percent you can bring down your financing costs,” he explained in a video discussing the need for such test centers.

Sarah Kurtz, NREL Principal Scientist explained that a new product might work very well in the desert. “But you may find out you get a good result in one location but find out the product has a problem in another,” she said. The test centers will try to avoid such issues as the technologies move from research and development to commercial deployment. 

Most countries don’t have the sheer landmass and diversity of climates that the U.S. does. As such a climate-dependent energy technology, like solar or wind, isn’t subject to such a wide range of climates as in the U.S. And in most countries studies of a technology’s efficiency don’t need to consider different climates as much as they do in the U.S.—particularly new technologies in early development stages. “Regional test facilities allow us to take technology developed in the lab and scale it up to demonstration scale,” Stein said.

The five sites will allow Sandia and partner sites to show industry the performance, reliability and bankability of large-scale photovoltaic energy systems. “The RTCs will provide enhanced monitoring and improved performance prediction capabilities for new technologies being introduced to the market,”Charles Hanley, manager of Photovoltaic and Distributed Systems Integration at Sandia, said in a release about the effort.

The new centers are being developed in Albuquerque, N.M., Burlington, Vt., Denver, Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla., representing a range of climates, from the desert southwest, to the woody northeast and the humid and green southeast, U.S. Sandia is funding the test centers and is working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on the overall project management. NREL will manage the Denver facility. 

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