Novel heatproof solar cells shine in Saudi Arabia

Published online 19 October 2010

Ola Al-Ghazawy

The new Thermocool technology allows better heat dissipation from the back of solar panels.
The new Thermocool technology allows better heat dissipation from the back of solar panels.
BP Solar

New solar technology developed by oil giant BP and being tested at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) may help increase energy output of solar cells in extreme temperatures.

BP Solar has installed 60 new photovoltaic (PV) modules at KAUST's New Energy Oasis (NEO). The panels incorporate 'Thermocool' technology, designed to cool the solar cells and improve energy conversion. The new system was switched on in July, and preliminary data is promising.

The efficiency of solar panels is affected by environmental conditions, such as high temperatures, humidity, and air pollution.

The standard photovoltaic (PV) unit consists of several interconnected solar cells. Each solar cell is encased in a thin sheet of ethylene vinyl acetate polymer. However, this protective covering traps heat, causing the temperature in the cell to rise during operation, with each 1°C increase costing a 0.5% in energy output.

By replacing the back EVA layer with the Thermocool polymer, the developers increased heat diffusion from the back of the PV unit. These cells are showing a 5°C decrease in operational temperature, resulting in 3% increase in power production.

"PV technology is well known but this is more like an extension improvement to cope with heat," said Rasmus Vincentz, climate change consultant at the Danish Energy Management, who is not involved in the project. "It is usually a big problem for photovoltaic cells that, when in the sun, they become too warm and underperform. Therefore, I think the efforts to develop a more heat proof PV system are fantastic."

"The cost of the new technology will remain consistent with previous models," said Zaidd Al-Chalabi, a marketing coordinator at BP Solar.

If successful, the Thermocool technology will be sold globally. "It's too early to tell what we can expect from this technology in the future at this point, but it could improve PV solar power systems by yielding higher power outputs over the life of the system," explained Al-Chalabi.

NEO is designed to be a testing ground for renewable energy technologies. Successful prototypes can be scaled up to industrial levels including at new solar power plants in the Kingdom.