Solving Solar's Shade Problem: Students May Have Answered Energy Source's Biggest Flaw

MIT students awarded more than $225,000 in prize money to help get their technology to market.

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Sami Grover, Mother Nature Network

This story originally appeared on Mother Nature Network.

It's fairly obvious to most of us that solar panels aren't a great investment on a shady roof. Yet even in near-ideal solar locations, partial shade from clouds, tree limbs or dust and debris is pretty much inevitable. And that shade can have a big impact, reducing a solar array's output by as much as 30 percent over the course of a year. Now a group of students has developed a novel solution for this issue — and they've been awarded more than $225,000 in prize money to help get their technology to market.

What's the problem?
Many people don't realize that it's not just the shaded spot on a solar panel that loses output. Because solar arrays are usually divided into "strings" of panels, shade falling on one part of a string can impact the output for that entire string.

...

There are already options out there for dealing with this issue. Many inverters now come with Maximum Power Point Tracking, a capability which basically takes whatever electricity is coming out of one string — even if that string is partially shaded — and adds it to a more powerful string to average output.

More output at lower costs
The team, which includes students from MIT, the California Institute of Technology, and Stanford University, is calling itself Unified Solar. Touting the catchphrase "shade happens," their technology was developed using a different approach to optimizing output...

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Read the full article at The Huffington Post