Adaptive Solar Panels: TPM Environmental Conditioning

Thermoelectric Power Modules for Improving PV Efficiency, Lifespan and Operations

Improving solar panel efficiency currently focuses on improved Photovoltaic (PV) technology. While there is no doubt that substantial gains are being made in this area, another approach to improving PV efficiency is in controlling or modifying the environment where the panel is installed. Just like air conditioning provides a better and more effective habitat for humans, environmental conditioning can provide the conditions for a more effective solar panel. This concept we call “Adaptive Solar Panels” and we achieve by using TPM Environmental Conditioning.

To illustrate what is meant by environmental conditioning, consider one natural enemy of solar panels: snow. TPM Environmental Conditioning, when added to a solar panel, allows the solar panel to respond to the condition by warming its surface until the snow is removed. Ann obvious approach to solve this would be to use an efficient process like electrical resistance, which is particularly effective because resistance essentially converts 100% of power provided into heat. While this is impressively efficient, TPM Environmental Conditioning can actually surpass this! While it might not be obvious, but even when solar panels are covered in snow, there is heat in the environment around it. Even the coldest air on earth has a lot of heat!

TPM Environment Conditioning uses Thermoelectric Devices (TEDs) which are heat pumps. In other words, while the majority of the power provided to TEDs is converted to heat, like most circuits, the remaining power is used to pump heat from outside the solar panel into it. This means that the amount of heat the solar panel receives exceeds 100% of the power provides to the TPM, generally reaching 125%-150%. This makes TPM Environmental Conditioning more efficient than even the most incredibly efficient electric-only heating available.

Another example of conditioning the environment is disposing of excess heat. While solar panels operate, much of the solar energy that strikes the panel is converted to heat. This is not only energy that PV technology cannot use, it makes the solar panel less efficient. Thus, while solar panels can produce more power when solar energy is at its peak, the panels are less efficient producing that power. Enter TPM Environmental Conditioning, where removing heat is also something they are extremely efficient at doing. First, it is well known that TEDs are less efficient at providing heat pump services for things like iar conditioning a house.

However, solar panels do not need air conditioning. They need direct reduction of their internal temperature. In addition, in most cases PV components do not need the massive temperature difference that humans need on a hot day. PV technology often continues to be efficient at what a human would consider an uncomfortable temperature. This means that solar panels only need a relatively small temperature differential in order to see very large efficiency benefits. Fortunately, TPMs are far more efficient at producing small temperature differences than traditional cooling systems. In addition to their incredible efficiency under these conditions, they also do not have moving parts that can fail like traditional cooling systems. Furthermore, we believe it is possible to achieve even greater efficiencies than are currently possible.

Another important feature of TPM Environmental Conditioning is that PV efficiency degrades over time, usually due to environmental factors outside the control of a solar panel system, such as excessive pressure on the solar panel frame from unusual amounts of snow or extreme thermal cycles. TPM Environmental Conditioning can reduce the extreme conditions that solar panels are subjected to, thereby increasing solar panel lifespan and lifetime efficiency. Which means that TPM Environmental Conditioning should not only improve the efficiency of solar panels immediately, the impact is a lifetime impact that can help extend the value of solar panels well beyond current limitations.

TPMs use a commonly found electrical component, a Thermoelectric Device (TED) to pump heat from one side to another. While these devices can be commonly obtained, there are several key, and patent pending, concepts that make the TPM very different from commonly found TEDs, and also makes them very effective at their job of removing waste heat or providing heat to a single surface, while extracting it from the other surface. To give some insight into how this is possible, most TEDs are only efficient at very high temperature gradients. While this is suitable for some applications, and even a limitation in many TED designs, we have found a way to improve those designs and continue to explore additional improvements. This approach is what makes TPM Environmental Conditioning the solution for PV solar panel efficiency.

This means that while there are a lot of engineers that can apply TEDs to solar panels to attempt our approach to environmental conditioning, we have developed a new technology to maximize the results. Our TPM Environmental Conditioning technology could improve PV only solar panel efficiency by as much as 10% while extending PV efficiency for the lifetime of the panel, and also extend the expected lifespan of the solar panel! Beyond that, our improvements to TED design and TPM construction we expect will enable the construction of TPM Environmental Conditioning into full size, commercial solar panels to cost only a few dollars. This contrasts sharply with the cost of high efficiency PV technology which can multiply the cost of the solar panel several times to achieve the same efficiencies, while risking reduced service life or sensitivity to environmental damage. The TPM Environment Conditioning solution should provide power efficiency benefits in addition to extended solar panel efficiency and lifespan.