The US Department of Energy has established five Regional Test Centers (RTCs) across the United States. Funded by DOE’s SunShot Initiative, the RTCs are part of a broad national effort to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by 2020.
The RTCs validate new technologies, demonstrating their performance and reliability under field conditions over time. Managed by Sandia National Laboratories and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the goal is to demonstrate how a technology performs in a particular climate:
- Does the actual power output match what is predicted?
- Does the system perform consistently over time?
- Is the system environmentally robust?
- And can problems—if they occur—be attributed to a specific climate?
The RTC team works with industry partners to validate new technologies by collecting and analyzing performance data under different field conditions. The performance analysis provided by the national labs throughout the study can help manufacturers 1) identify any weaknesses and improve their technologies; and 2) win investor confidence in their new technologies and approaches, and thus helps draw the investment dollars needed to bring innovation to the marketplace.
The RTCs, which operate as both research and testing centers, are also helping to 1) develop methodologies and standards for validating photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated PV (CPV) technologies and 2) define a technical basis for bankability that will help drive innovation in the solar sector. Specific objectives include the following:
- Improve the accuracy and repeatability of the outdoor measurements used for the validation.
- Develop world-class characterization tools (based on international standards) that provide the parameters necessary to model system performance.
- Develop inspection procedures (that can become international standards) for evaluating the performance and safety of fielded PV systems.
- Utilize RTC’s for demonstrating failure-analysis methodologies that can be used to build a module failure mode data base.
- Provide integration and synthesis of results from different climates and technologies.