Updated October 25, 2023
Golden, Colorado — The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), part of the U.S. Department of Energy, is about to share a goldmine of solar knowledge with its upcoming Solar Mirror Materials Database (SMMD). This publicly accessible database, set to launch later this year, condenses decades of experiments on solar reflectors, shedding light on the secrets of these important solar components.
Solar reflectors are used in technologies like concentrating solar-thermal power, and they've undergone rigorous testing. The SMMD gathers data from experiments performed in various locations, including Phoenix, Miami, and NREL's own Colorado campus. The data goes all the way back to 1980 and offers valuable insights into how different mirror materials change over time.
A recent article published in the Journal of Solar Energy Engineering, titled "Compilation of a Solar Mirror Materials Database and an Analysis of Natural and Accelerated Mirror Exposure and Degradation," provides a deep dive into the SMMD. It takes the vast amount of measurement data collected over decades and compiles it into a more understandable format.
Tucker Farrell, a research engineer at NREL and the lead author of the article, highlighted the practical applications of the database.
"Concentrating solar-thermal power takes different forms, like parabolic trough, tower, Fresnel, dish, and others, but they all share the same goal: harnessing solar energy and concentrating it to capture heat,"
The SMMD is a treasure trove, containing over 2,000 samples and more than 100,000 measurements. One intriguing finding is that conditions simulating four months in an accelerated environment strongly correlate with nine months of outdoor exposure. This information is invaluable for improving accelerated testing, designing solar reflectors, and optimizing their production.
The strength of the SMMD lies in its vast and diverse data, collected under various environmental conditions. Mirrors tested in Phoenix experienced low humidity, high daily temperatures, and extreme temperature swings throughout the year. Miami, on the other hand, offered high humidity levels but relatively stable temperatures, while Golden recorded the lowest average temperature but significant temperature fluctuations.
Solar mirrors come in various materials, including glass, aluminum, polymers, and silver. Over time, they lose some of their reflectivity due to factors like corrosion, microfractures, pitting, or chemical and physical changes. Understanding these degradation causes and their connections to environmental factors can help in creating accurate reflector models tailored to specific regions and climates.
The research behind the SMMD received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Energy Technologies Office. NREL, as the primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development, operates under the Alliance for Sustainable Energy LLC on behalf of the DOE.
Get ready for the launch of the SMMD, an invaluable resource that promises to unlock a wealth of knowledge and insights for the solar technology community.