To maintain U.S. competitiveness, the DOE recognizes that more must be done to help companies developing new technologies cross the second “Valley of Death”—the lack of capital resources required to demonstrate the large-scale manufacturing and economic viability and reliability (or “bankability”) of a particular technology pathway.
Founded in 2012, the Regional Test Center (RTC) program supports a state-of-the-art technical platform for evaluating the performance and reliability of emerging PV technologies across multiple climates. Established by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office, the program allows for the rigorous evaluation of proprietary technologies under realistic field conditions, enabling the cross-climate comparison of solar technologies. To that end, each RTC has a common infrastructure, including world-class meteorological instrumentation, high-resolution monitoring equipment, and operating protocols to ensure data quality.
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?
Value to industry
The RTC program is a singular resource that gives solar companies access to multi-climate research facilities, high-fidelity performance data and the technical excellence of the National Labs. This unique pairing of industry with Laboratory expertise helps drive both product innovation and the commercialization of new high-efficiency solar products. Specifically, the RTCs provide:
- A multi-site technical platform for accurately comparing product performance under varying conditions of temperature, humidity and irradiance
- Grid-tied infrastructure that can accommodate a diversity of technologies and installations of multiple types and sizes
- Access to National Lab expertise and the Labs’ broad engineering capabilities
- A validation approach that ensures complete confidentiality: data collected on behalf of industry is shared only with that partner
- Analysis in the form of performance reports authored by trusted experts at the National Labs creates credibility and trust that can increase investor confidence in specific technologies and their broad deployment.
Six-Pronged Value Proposition
The RTCs contribute to innovation and growth in the solar market in multiple ways:
- Product Validation-The RTCs provide the data and analysis to demonstrate how new products perform over time and in different climates. Companies apply for an RTC study, and if accepted, partner with the National Labs on the design and execution of a study that best aligns with the partner’s technical objectives. These studies help accelerate the commercialization of innovative and more efficient solar products, lowering costs and expanding markets. All data are protected by a non-disclosure agreement and shared only with the industry partner, unless the partner decides otherwise.
- Technological Innovation-Access to the technical excellence, engineering capabilities, and credibility of the National Labs benefits industry by providing technical support to drive innovation.
- Photovoltaics R&D-In addition to supporting industry studies, the RTCs are a catalyst for research, fostering partnerships between the National Labs, universities, and private companies to address both mainstream and emerging research challenges of broader interest.
- Multi-Climate Performance Data-Data available to the public includes performance data from each RTC’s reference PV array, synchronized to onsite meteorological data (see https://pv-dashboard.sandia.gov). The data helps improve performance models, bringing greater accuracy to levelized-cost-of-electricity projections.
- Training and Education-With its world-class infrastructure, exacting protocols and diversity of technologies, the RTCs provide a platform for state-of-the-art solar-training and education, with curricula that reflect collaborations between the local host institution and Sandia.
- Early-Warning Mechanism for Reliability Issues-Automated data reports alert the National Labs to system or data failure; follow-up diagnostic analysis allows faults to be uncovered and corrected, ensuring data integrity. Long-term and cross-site investigations can identify widespread problems affecting the reliability of PV systems and components. The RTCs also generate data on degradation rates, which are important to lifetime performance.