New tech to revive old solar panels

Wednesday, 27 December, 2023

New tech to revive old solar panels

Researchers from EtaVolt, a spin-off from Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) have used an innovative device that can energise old solar cells with multiple times the intensity of sunlight, to rejuvenate old solar panels quickly. The device can also be used to protect new and old solar panels from performance degradation caused by light and heat. The underlying science behind this technology has been licensed to EtaVolt for commercialisation and scale-up.

EtaVolt’s technology could help support the solar energy industry, particularly in tropical regions like Singapore, where solar panels can deteriorate rapidly due to constant exposure to intense sunlight, heat, humidity and frequent thunderstorms. Typically, solar panels begin to lose efficiency hours after installation, especially in the first year as they face harsh environmental conditions. The conventional way of maintaining the performance of solar panels is to clean the top glass layer or to replace the entire solar panel module, but there is no commercially available, cost-effective way to restore its performance in the field or onsite.

Known as Advanced Regeneration Technology, the innovation by EtaVolt works for the majority of silicon solar cells in the market, including those that contain boron, oxygen, defects and other impurities. When intense light and controlled temperature are applied precisely to solar cells, they excite and cause the material molecules to move quickly, thereby changing their arrangement and patching up the ‘holes’ caused by light and heat damage.

The process is similar to patching holes in a bucket; it repairs solar panels to prevent energy leakage, for optimal light energy collection. The new device can automatically roll itself over solar panels that are up to 2.3 metres in length; the process takes less than five minutes and can help treated solar panels recover up to 5% of their lost field performance. It can also prevent and minimise further degradation of the solar cells for up to five years, depending on the type of solar panels. It can also be used indoors and deployed onsite for outdoor solar farms.

Madhavi Srinivasan, the Executive Director of the Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N), said the pursuit of sustainability through renewable energy only makes sense if the renewable energy systems themselves are sustainable and efficient.

“While this carbon emission can be offset by the theoretical long service life of the solar panels, estimated at 25 years, the reality is that solar panels in tropical countries face harsher conditions and there has been no real solution to restore and recycle the silicon cells — the core technology of solar panels,” Srinivasan said.

Dr Stanley Wang, Co-Founder of EtaVolt, said the patented technology enhances the efficiency and reliability of solar energy systems and also promises to reduce e-waste and the need for frequent panel replacements.

“Our solar rejuvenation method has not only been rigorously tested and validated but has shown field-proven results in various commercial applications. The technology has been successfully implemented in projects with major partners in the solar industry, such as renewable energy solutions firm Vector Green, demonstrating its effectiveness and potential for widespread adoption,” Wang said.

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