Research is proving that the solar panels many trust for electricity can have performance issues when corrosion becomes a problem—and believe it or not, this is occurring more and more. The worst part is how difficult it is to control, as environmental conditions and uncompromising factors are the culprits with the most impact. With unavoidable consequences, the only thing that can be done is plan for the rate at which this deterioration is occurring and work preventatively.
Testing is done in labs to replicate the weather conditions that are wearing down panels, and these trials are even adapted for varying weather trends in contrasting areas. The ultimate goal is to develop materials that successfully withstand any conditions and don’t suffer any loss in performance. Some of the developments made have allowed significant cost reduction in materials used. This means, not only energy savings are made available through solar panels in construction, but also the cost of the panels themselves is being driven down.
Research teams are taking an extremely in-depth approach to understanding the components used, how they are manufactured, and what the conditions are like where they were made—all in hopes of discovering additional ways to block corrosion completely. There is such a high level of detail involved that research teams are even developing materials to protect solar cells from being deteriorated.
Inorganic components and organic polymers that make up thin films must be designed and mixed carefully. “It’s about assembling those structures in the right way so that you can use inexpensive materials and still get the benefits you want,” a lead researcher said. “If you build a house, it’s not just piling together the drywall and two-by-fours and shingles. You’ve got to use the two-by-fours to make the frame, set the drywall on the two-by-fours, and assemble the shingles on the roof.”
The battle against corrosion won’t be a triumph by tomorrow, but the dramatic developments Sandia National Laboratories have made are showing in six months what could happen over decades.