UC Merced said its School of Engineering assistant professor Alberto Cerpa received a $568,202 grant from the National Science Foundation.
It will be used to develop a system that will measure and track the amount of sunlight that reaches ground level. Findings will be applied to photovoltaic panels and solar concentrators used in solar energy systems that collect light and heat to turn into electricity.
The three-year grant, funded under the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, is for the project “MRI: Development of ASSIST: Affordable System for Solar Irradiance Sensing and Tracking.”
Cerpa, along with associate professor Carlos Coimbra and assistant professor Qinghua Guo, is developing a system that will help make it easier for energy producers to determine the most optimal opportunities to use solar, the university said in a news release.
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Solar power systems can generate substantial amounts of electricity on hot, cloudless summer days. But during winter, when weather conditions are more varied and cloud cover affects the amount of sunlight a photovoltaic cell collects, the amount of electricity that solar system will generate is less predictable on a day-to-day basis. That unpredictability, in turn, can hamper solar energy’s cost-effectiveness.
Energy suppliers that use solar would benefit by knowing in advance when their system is able to produce the amount of electricity to meet customers’ needs and when to rely on other energy sources, the news release said.
The system will be developed and tested in the Central Valley. It will use a network of sensors that collects data on sunlight at ground levels. The sensors will measure and track cloud cover, aerosol content and the presence of gases such as water vapor and carbon dioxide — all of which can reduce the amount of sunlight a solar cell can collect — in the Earth’s lower atmosphere and stratosphere.