The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed a new system that quickly measures the electricity output of solar energy devices, which could help to streamline quality testing during solar panel manufacturing and allow researchers to easily test the performance of new solar technologies in the lab.
NIST.gov explains, "the NIST team has combined 32 LEDs—each generating light from different segments of the solar spectrum—and other off-the-shelf equipment with their custom-made technologies to build a system that measures the wavelength-dependent quantum efficiency of solar devices over a relatively large area."
In order to gauge how much electric current a solar device generates when hit by a standard amount of sunlight, the system can be used in two ways. One is to light up the LEDs sequentially to measure a solar panel's reaction to the different parts of the spectrum. This method takes about 32 minutes with the system. The other approach is to light all the LEDs at the same time, which measures a solar panel's response to the entire blended spectrum. That measurement takes only four seconds.
Researchers in labs would probably want to use the first approach to study different technologies' performance, but in a manufacturing setting, workers could use the system to quickly test solar panels for quality control using the second, faster method.
This new system is better than currently existing measurement devices according to the NIST because not only does it operate more quickly, but the LEDs present a more uniform illumination for testing and the device lasts about 10 times longer than the current technology.
The NIST is still working to improve the measurements though. The institute's ultimate goal is to develop a measuring system that can match or exceed the energy intensity of the sun, features an LED-synthesized spectrum to include the infrared portion of the sun's output, consistently achieves measurement results with uncertainties of less than 1 percent and the ability to gauge spectral response within 10 minutes, down from 32.