Representatives from SunPower Corporation, a leading US solar manufacturer and global competitor, recently visited Sandia National Laboratories to inspect the manufacturer’s experimental photovoltaic (PV) system at the New Mexico Regional Test Center (RTC), co-located with Sandia’s Photovoltaic Systems Evaluation Laboratory, or PSEL.
Dr. Laurie Burnham, Scientist and Lead Investigator for the RTC project, organized the event, which also included a stop for the SunPower team at the Nevada RTC before touching down in New Mexico and heading to the Florida RTC.
“We always encourage our RTC partners to visit Sandia. In-person meetings build trust, promote the exchange of information and—quite frankly—result in most visitors being wowed by PSEL’s technical capabilities,” Dr. Burnham said. “In addition, the partnerships we establish through the RTC program represent a win-win: US manufacturers gain access to the expertise and resources of the national labs, and Sandia gets a front seat to industry innovation, which in turn creates opportunities for cutting-edge research that supports the entire solar industry.”
SunPower has been an RTC partner for the past five years, initially asking Sandia to validate an early version of their bifacial (two-sided) module technology. Since then, Sandia and SunPower have collaborated on two generations of SunPower’s shingled-cell modules, known as the P-Series. The shingled design represents a fundamentally new approach to module architecture that enables more power output for the same size module, has the potential for high reliability, and performs well when modules are partially shaded.
The half-day New Mexico visit by Senior Module Performance Engineer Adam Hoffman and his colleague, Fabrizio Farina, included an overview of Sandia’s current PV projects—Optimized Bifacial PV Systems, PV Proving Grounds, PV CAMPER and Snow as a Factor in Photovoltaic Performance and Reliability, among others—followed by a wide-ranging discussion of how research can best support the nation’s transition to advance a solar-intensive future.
SunPower’s Hoffman provided an informal presentation of the challenges and opportunities facing the solar sector from a manufacturer’s perspective. This included an overview of the company’s research and development interests, and a description of the company’s outdoor testing facility in Davis, CA. Hoffman also emphasized the company’s interest in collaboration.
“Data from the RTC sites has been highly valuable in demonstrating how SunPower’s innovative module technologies perform in the field and in different climates,” Hoffman said. “Sandia has been a fantastic partner on a variety of projects over the years. The Sandia team has truly world-class expertise, and we are grateful for their support of the solar industry. It was a productive visit and meeting for both parties, and I look forward to continuing our collaboration.”
The meeting concluded with the visitors and researchers braving ice, wind and snow for a tour of the department’s PSEL facility. Technical Director Dr. Bruce King guided the guests through the site, which included an extended stop at the SunPower experimental system.
The New Mexico Regional Test Center (RTC) is one of four regional centers throughout the country and part of the larger US DOE Regional Test Center program. The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office established the state-of-the-art technical platform in 2012 to validate the performance and reliability of emerging PV technologies across multiple climates and increase investor and consumer confidence in new, more efficient products. The program allows for the rigorous evaluation of proprietary technologies under realistic field conditions, enabling the cross-climate comparison of solar technologies. To ensure data quality, each RTC has a common infrastructure, including world-class meteorological instrumentation, high-resolution monitoring equipment, and operating protocols.