Decades of Solar Mirror Research Now Accessible in New Database
by Simon Mansfield
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Nov 01, 2023
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), part of the U.S. Department of Energy, is set to launch an extensive database cataloging the outcomes of decades-long exposure tests on solar mirrors. Known as the Solar Mirror Materials Database (SMMD), this resource promises to house a vast array of data, encompassing over 2,000 samples and 100,000 measurements from more than 100 suppliers. Designed to serve the solar-thermal power industry, the database aims to become a cornerstone in research and development.
NREL’s exhaustive solar mirror study spans a timeline reaching back to 1980. It offers deep insights into the durability and degradation of various materials that make up the mirrors commonly used in concentrating solar-thermal power systems. These mirrors have been exposed to a variety of testing conditions, in both outdoor settings and lab environments, across three locations: Phoenix, Miami, and NREL’s own campus in Golden, Colorado.
The research has been condensed into an article, “Compilation of a Solar Mirror Materials Database and an Analysis of Natural and Accelerated Mirror Exposure and Degradation,” published in the Journal of Solar Energy Engineering. Authored by Tucker Farrell, a research engineer at NREL, alongside co-authors Yue Cao, Daniel Celvi, Christa Schreiber, and Guangdong Zhu, the paper applies statistical analysis to synthesize decades of measurement data.
Tucker Farrell explained the utility of the SMMD, saying, “The database can guide the development of accelerated tests, design of solar reflectors, and manufacturing processes.” He elaborated on the scope of solar-thermal technology: “You’ve got a variety of forms like parabolic trough, tower, Fresnel, dish, and more, but they all center around a single principle. You aim to reflect and concentrate solar energy at a focal point to capture heat.”
The information within the SMMD is considered exceptionally valuable for its long-term outdoor exposure data. One significant observation made by the NREL team was a strong correlation between four months of accelerated lab testing and nine months of outdoor exposure. This suggests that extended durations in lab conditions are essential for precise modeling of material behavior over time.
The varying climatic conditions at the three test sites provide additional layers of nuance to the research. Phoenix offered the lowest humidity and highest daily temperature ranges, while Miami presented high humidity levels but stable temperatures. Golden experienced the lowest average temperatures but had considerable temperature fluctuations. This range allows for more comprehensive conclusions about how different environmental factors interact with solar mirror materials.
Mirrors used in the studies consisted of various combinations of materials such as glass and aluminum, polymer and silver, or glass and silver. While it’s a given that solar mirrors degrade over time, losing some of their reflectivity, the SMMD aims to offer a deeper understanding of the underlying causes. Factors like corrosion, microfractures, pitting, and other chemical and physical changes have been explored in the database. This enables the development of more targeted and environment-specific solutions. For instance, a mirror designed for arid climates with coarse sand may not be optimal for coastal settings with high humidity and airborne salts.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, the research embodied in the SMMD serves as a rich resource for the development and refinement of solar mirror technologies. The SMMD is expected to be accessible online later this year, offering a comprehensive tool for both researchers and industry professionals.
NREL operates as the U.S. Department of Energy’s premier lab for research and development in renewable energy and energy efficiency, managed by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy LLC.
1. Renewable Energy Industry Analyst: 9/10
2. Stock and Finance Market Analyst: 7/10
3. Government Policy Analyst: 8/10
The article focuses on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)’s upcoming Solar Mirror Materials Database (SMMD), a comprehensive compilation of decades-long research on solar mirrors, particularly their durability and degradation. This initiative is primarily aimed at serving the solar-thermal power industry.
Renewable Energy Industry Analyst:
For renewable energy professionals, especially those in the solar-thermal sector, the database is a treasure trove. It covers critical aspects like material degradation and performance under various climatic conditions. The in-depth data could accelerate R and D efforts and potentially lead to more efficient and durable solar mirrors.
Stock and Finance Market Analyst:
From a financial standpoint, this development has implications for companies involved in manufacturing solar mirrors and those investing in solar-thermal projects. The data could reduce risks associated with long-term investments by offering insights into material longevity and performance. However, the database mainly serves the solar-thermal industry, limiting its broader applicability in the entire renewable energy sector.
Government Policy Analyst:
For policy analysts, the database offers concrete data that could inform future policy decisions on renewable energy, particularly solar-thermal technologies. Given that the research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the government would have a vested interest in utilizing this information to shape grants, incentives, and regulations.
Over the past 25 years, the renewable energy sector has seen significant advancements in technology, efficiency, and scalability. Early solar thermal projects were fraught with issues of inefficiency and durability, many of which this database aims to address. Additionally, in terms of policy, there has been an increased focus on renewable energies as part of sustainable development goals and climate commitments. The SMMD can be seen as a confluence of these advancements and policy directions, offering empirical data to support future initiatives.
1. How can the data in the SMMD be used to create a more sustainable solar-thermal energy supply chain?
2. What are the financial implications of implementing the database’s findings in existing solar-thermal projects?
3. How will the SMMD influence governmental policies around renewable energy subsidies and tax incentives?
4. Could the methodology of the SMMD be applied to other forms of renewable energy technologies for similar benefits?
5. How might the SMMD impact international collaborations on renewable energy research and development?
The SMMD promises to be a valuable resource across different sectors, impacting R and D, investment strategies, and policy formulation in the realm of renewable energy.