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Jamaica solar panels not collecting up to 40% of energy – expert

Solar panels used for electricity generation in tropical regions like the Caribbean could be losing as much as 40 per cent of energy daily because of atmospheric pollution.

According to Dr Paul Ruscher, associate professor of meteorology and climatology at Florida State University, research showed tropical atmospheres contained unique characteristics that may limit practical use of existing solar technology.

“In any coastal region, especially in the tropics, you get a lot of evaporation of seawater, which leaves a lot of salt particles behind,” said Ruscher. “From our research, it seems that is the largest contributing factor.”

Ruscher also noted the thickness of the atmosphere in the tropics was also another contributing factor, as it served to reduce the amount of energy received on solar panels used in Jamaica compared to states like Colorado and Florida.

He said much of this energy loss could be attributed to the specifications used in the manufacturing of solar panels which, Ruscher claims, were designed more for use in temperate zones rather than the tropics.

“Most of the solar panels manufactured in the world are to the specifications developed in the middle latitudes. We have less solar energy available, a thinner and generally cleaner atmosphere, as most of it is continental, not marine air,” Ruscher said.

Alternative plans

The climatologist said the energy losses from solar panels used in the tropics, which could run as high as 40 per cent even on cloud-free days, could be compensated by using higher-wattage photovoltaic panels.

Ruscher, a presenter at a recent University of Technology workshop on atmospheric factors limiting solar-energy efficiency in the tropics – Jamaica, in particular – said a solution was being developed that would ultimately result in more efficient solar panels designed for use in regions like the Caribbean.

However, a leading supplier of solar photovoltaic panels with whom The Gleaner spoke has challenged Ruscher’s argument on the impact of atmospheric factors on solar-panel performance.

Malissa Fletcher, marketing executive at Gormann Corporation – which has installed solar panels for years – while agreeing that several factors could affect efficiency, rebutted the claimed impact of atmospheric pollution.

“Jamaica has at least six sun hours daily. From what we’ve seen the panels produce, other than certain efficiency issues like shading and factors incorporated in the design, it eliminates his debate on atmospheric pollution,” said Fletcher.

Source: Jamaica Gleaner



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