One of the National Security
Administration's three national laboratories is building regional
testing centers around the country to field-test hardware for solar
companies before their multimillion-dollar solar systems are
installed in buildings.
The Sandia National Laboratory is building test centers in Albuquerque, Denver, Las Vegas, Orlando, Fla., and Burlington, Vt., the Albuquerque Journal reported.
"The centers are designed to not only provide independent assessments of commercial systems, but to do that in multiple locations and climates," Sandia solar group member Jennifer Granata said.
The test facilities will provide enhanced monitoring and improved performance prediction capabilities for new technologies and will have detailed weather stations and measuring and monitoring equipment such as simulators, performance curve tracers and infrared and digital cameras.
They will help develop standard procedures to assess performance of large-scale systems that other labs, utilities and investors can use.
Select companies will then set up their own systems of between 10 and 300 kilowatts on site. The companies doing field testing at the centers will be responsible for the costs of their systems, while the government will provide labor and expertise.
The lab also just completed a $17.8 million upgrade to its National Solar Thermal Test Facility in Albuquerque.
While the test centers will focus on solar systems that directly convert sunlight to electricity, the lab's Solar Thermal Test Facility is working to improve concentrating solar power systems that use sunlight to heat liquids to generate steam for turbine generators.
That facility was established in 1976 in Albuquerque, but much of it had never been updated until now. Upgrades included construction of a $10 million Molten Salt Test Loop, and a nearly $4 million overhaul of the facility's "solar tower."
Concentrating solar power systems are increasingly using molten salt to retain heat from the sun because it's cheap and abundant, and it stores thermal energy for long periods, allowing the systems to generate steam for turbines well after the sun goes down. But energy developers need a better understanding of how pressure, high temperature and flow rates interact and affect a system's overall operation.
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