PV partners: Sandia helps DOE bring large-scale solar systems to market

Sandia has a long history of measuring and modeling performance of PV systems, from single panels to multimegawatt arrays, the kinds of systems found on residential rooftops and small businesses.

by Nancy Salem

Sandia is advancing viable, low-carbon power through its collaboration on five US Regional Test Centers (RTCs) where industry can assess the performance, reliability, and bankability of large-scale photovoltaic energy systems.

“With the trend in the solar industry toward larger systems and greater capital investment — substantial amounts of money are going into this field — the financial community is increasingly scrutinizing how well these systems operate,” says Charles Hanley, manager of Photovoltaic and Distributed Systems Integration Dept. 6120. “The RTCs will provide enhanced monitoring and improved performance prediction capabilities for new technologies being introduced to the market.”

Photovoltaic (PV) modules convert solar radiation into electrical current using solar cells containing semiconductor material. Demand for renewable energy has produced an industry around the manufacture and installation of solar cells, photovoltaic arrays, and other components such as inverters, trackers, and racking systems. Demand has also produced a need to build investor confidence in larger PV systems by assessing performance over time in different climates.

Sandia has a long history of measuring and modeling performance of PV systems, from single panels to multi-megawatt arrays, the kinds of systems found on residential rooftops and small businesses. “Sandia works in partnership with the US solar industry to advance the state of the art in system integration and system optimization,” Charles says.

Sandia researchers a few years ago developed the idea of an incubator for commercial-scale PV systems up to 500 kilowatts or a megawatt, the size found on big-box stores or schools. The Labs’ National Solar Thermal Test Facility (NSTTF) was quickly identified as a perfect site for such a PV testbed.

At the same time, DOE was working with industry and stakeholders to determine their most pressing needs. The agency hosted a workshop in Berkeley, Calif., on PV manufacturing attended by the CEOs of module manufacturers and members of the financial community. 

“It was clear from the workshop that the broad community wants better ways to quantify technical aspects to support the bankability of PV systems,” says Jennifer Granata (6112) of the Labs’ solar group.

Bankability is a measure of a project’s risk to an investor. The lower the risk the more bankable it is, thereby lowering associated financing costs. The technical risk must be quantified to make PV systems more commercially viable.

“The RTCs will develop protocols and conduct testing and analysis on the systems that can give investors some concrete data with which to assess the risk,” Jennifer says.

A good fit for Sandia

She says the PV world until now did not have full and independent standardized processes for monitoring and evaluating large systems. The country’s few other PV test sites accommodate only small systems.

The workshop attendees asked DOE to develop test locations for large arrays where PV manufacturers could try out new designs and systems and get reliable data. “It fit with the Sandia idea on system incubators,” Jennifer says. “We had ideas on how this could work.”

DOE asked Sandia and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colo., to submit proposals for what the agency named Regional Test Centers. Jennifer led a team effort to develop a Sandia proposal for testing infrastructure and a validation plan to measure and evaluate performance and reliability.

DOE decided to fund physical and data monitoring infrastructures and validation plans at five locations in different climates, with Sandia and NREL working together on the overall project management. Sandia manages four of the five locations with local partners: Albuquerque; Orlando, Fla., Burlington, Vt.; and Las Vegas, Nev. The fifth location, Denver, is managed by NREL.

The sites are in varying stages of development, from early planning to ready-to-go. Each will put in infrastructure up to one megawatt, so multiple different-sized systems can be tested. At Sandia, the project has started on eight acres at the NSTTF with an option to expand by an additional 30 acres. Infrastructure includes a road, communications equipment, and the electrical lines for monitoring systems, transformers, and switches.

“Most of the work is underground,” Jennifer says. “Companies can come in and put a PV system in place. AC goes right to the grid.”

Jennifer says key components of the RTCs are the processes, standards, and guidelines for validating large PV systems. Experts from the participating sites have developed a validation plan with step-by-step processes to assess and quantify system performance.

“The Regional Test Centers, with lab expertise, can provide an independent, third-party perspective, and test beyond the standard protocols to improve our understanding,” Jennifer says.

RTCs are a part of DOE’s SunShot Initiative, a collaborative national effort to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade. DOE wants to encourage widespread, large-scale adoption of renewable solar energy technology and restore US leadership in the global clean-energy race.

Charles says the RTCs are an important part of the effort. “This will produce improvements in performance monitoring that can greatly reduce the uncertainty around investing in large-scale projects and therefore help keep the dramatic growth in this market on track,” he says.

-- Nancy Salem

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Project aims to create an OS for exascale computing environment

A Sandia-led team in the stratosphere of high-performance supercomputing has been funded by DOE’s Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research to design an operating system suitable to handle the million-trillion-per-second mathematical operations of an envisioned exascale computer.

by Neal Singer

A Sandia-led team in the stratosphere of high-performance supercomputing has been funded by DOE’s Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research to design an operating system suitable to handle the million-trillion-per-second mathematical operations of an envisioned exascale computer, and then create prototypes of several of its programming components.

Called the XPRESS project (eXascale Programming Environment and System Software), the effort to achieve a major milestone in supercomputing is funded at $2.3 million a year for three years and engages a team that includes the universities of Indiana, North Carolina, Oregon, and Houston; Louisiana State University; and Oak Ridge and Lawrence Berkeley national laboratories. Work began Sept. 1.

The project’s goal is to devise an innovative operating system and associated components that will enable exascale computing by 2020, making contributions along the way  to improve current petaflop (a million billion operations a second) systems, says program lead Ron Brightwell (1423).

Scientists in industry and in research institutions believe that exascale computing speeds will more accurately simulate the most complex nuclear, chem/bio, and atmospheric reactions, but enormous preparation is necessary to improve supercomputing so that it can achieve such speeds.

Current software now based on 20-year-old technologies

“System software on today’s parallel-processing computers is largely based on ideas and technologies developed more than 20 years ago, before processors with hundreds of computing cores were even imagined,” says Ron. “The XPRESS project aims to provide a system software foundation designed to maximize the performance and scalability of future large-scale parallel computers as well as enable a new approach to the science and engineering applications that run on them.”

Current supercomputers operate through a method called parallel processing, where individual chips work out parts of a problem and contribute results in an order controlled by an overall program, much like the output of instruments in an orchestra are controlled by a conductor. Chip speed itself thus plays a less important role than the ability to synchronize individual results, since more chips can be added for greater traction in solving harder problems.  

But merely adding more chips to a supercomputer “orchestra” to solve extremely difficult problems in a reasonable amount of time can make the orchestra unwieldy, the conductor’s job more difficult and, in the end, impossible. 

 In addition to programming difficulties, excess heat generation wastes energy, adding more components increases the chances that some will fail, and designing convenient information storage locations so memories are immediately available to processors is not a trivial problem.

The conundrum is, in short, that an exascale computer using current technologies could have the unwanted complexity of a Rube Goldberg contraption that uses the energy of a small city and requires constant upkeep.

To reduce these problems and start researchers on the road to solutions, the multi-institution XPRESS effort will address specific factors known to degrade fast supercomputer performance. These include “starvation” — the insufficiency of concurrent partial problem-solving at particular locations. This hinders both efficiency and scalability because it can require more parallelism. Information delays, known as latency effects, need to be reduced through a combination of better locality management, reduction of superfluous messaging, and the hiding of information unnecessary to the problem. Overhead limits the fitness of granularity that can be effectively exploited through inference. This reduces scalability. Waiting — because the same memory is needed by several processors — also causes slowdowns.

The team brings together researchers with expertise not only in operating systems, says Ron, but also other system software capabilities, such as performance analysis and dynamic resource management, that are crucial to supporting the features needed to effectively manage the increasing complexities of future exascale systems.

-- Neal Singer

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Intern adds Rhodes Scholarship to remarkable achievements

Sandia intern Rachel Kolb, a Stanford University graduate, has been named a Rhodes Scholar. She will begin her studies in Oxford, England, in the fall of 2013.

by Nancy Salem

Rachel Kolb has one of those rare resumes for a 22-year-old. She’s a National Merit Scholar with a bachelor’s degree in English from Stanford University. She’s the first Stanford student to twice win the university’s distinguished Boothe Prize for essay writing. She was a summer intern four times at Sandia in areas ranging from the Lab News to Strategic Foundations to Surety Engineering. And she’s closing in on a master’s degree.

Rachel just added another entry: Rhodes Scholar.

She found out two weeks ago she is one of 32 U.S. students chosen for post-graduate study at the University of Oxford in England in 2013 under what is widely considered the world’s most prestigious scholarship.

“I was stunned,” Rachel (420) says. “I’m also very excited and trying to wrap my mind around everything this means, the whole process, being away from home, keeping that kind of company.”

What makes Rachel’s accomplishments even more extraordinary is that she was born deaf. She learned to speak through 18 years of intensive weekly speech therapy. And receiving a cochlear implant two years ago has helped her hear better than she could with hearing aids alone. “The challenge is how to use and interpret the sounds,” she says.

Rachel is an Albuquerque native. Her parents Bill (6123) and Irene (2992) Kolb have worked at Sandia since the early 1980s. Rachel graduated in 2008 from Albuquerque Academy and entered Stanford, where she earned a bachelor’s degree this year and will complete a master’s, also in English, next June.

Rachel wants to be a writer and plans to study contemporary literature and comparative social policy at Oxford, earning a master’s degree in each over two years. She loves fiction and nonfiction and hopes to work disability-related issues into her writing. She’s also considering work in academia.

 “I love reading,” she says. “I read the classics and try to keep up with contemporary fiction.”

Some favorite authors are Jonathan Franzen, Hilary Mantel, Michael Chabon, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, and George Eliot. Her undergraduate thesis was on Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. “I enjoy writers who experiment with the form and with what they can do with their craft,” she says.

Rachel is an accomplished horsewoman and president of the Stanford Equestrian Team. She says her connection to horses is one of the most important things in her life. “They allow me to communicate without language,” she says. “They take you as you are.”

Rachel heads to Oxford next fall. She studied there through Stanford’s Bing Overseas Studies Program during her junior year, from October to December 2010. “Being at Oxford made me want to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship,” she says. “I enjoyed the one-on-one tutorial system and the intensive focus on individual projects instead of large classes.”

“We are so thrilled for her,” Irene says. “And to be honest, we feel quite humbled. We are proud of everything Rachel has accomplished.”

Rachel’s childhood speech therapist advised Irene not to put limits on Rachel. “And we didn’t,” Irene says. “Look at all the wonderful things she’s brought to our lives.”

Bill says his daughter’s life is packed with scholarly pursuits. “She’s always reading, always writing, always responding to people. Her heart is people. She loves being included and inclusive.”

Irene says she loves the conversation Rachel brings to the family, which includes another daughter, Leigh, a Pepperdine University sophomore who is studying this year in Switzerland. “Rachel is never at a loss for words at the dinner table no matter what the subject might be,” Irene says. “She brings up all types of interesting topics.”

Bill and Irene say they’ll miss Rachel while she’s in England but will visit and talk. “With two kids abroad thank goodness for Skype,” Bill says.

He says he knew from the beginning his daughter was special.

“We’re blessed to have her,” he says. “I’m proud and I’m honored to know her and to have her in my life. She’s extraordinary. I’ve learned more from her than she has from me.”

-- Nancy Salem

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New inclement weather notification process is simple, straightforward, standardized

Should overnight winter weather conditions make parking lots unsafe, Sandia's Emergency Operations Center will deliver a workforce message about the delay, including a specific time to report to work. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

by Cathy Ann Connelly

Sandia has changed its procedures for inclement weather work delays, which now are set for universal, hour-specific start times for all members of the workforce.

The new approach will help all of us be safer as we drive, park, and walk into work," says Brian Bielecki, director of Security and Emergency Management Center 4200, "and it gives us clear, simple, and standardized communications about what to do, when to do it, and how to account for charging time."

Should overnight winter weather conditions make parking lots unsafe until they are cleared, Sandia Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will deliver a workforce message about the delay, including a specific time to report to work, and other details including how to charge time for the delay.

Under typical snowy conditions, messages will be sent no later than 5 a.m. the day of the delay, and will include a stipulated start time dependent on the severity of the storm - usually around 9 a.m.

Messages will be delivered in all the familiar ways, starting with Sandia email, so employees can choose which sources they prefer to monitor. Sources include:

  • Sandia email
  • Sandia Bulletin Board (Dial 845-6789 and follow the menu choices.)
  • Radio Sandia, 1640 AM
  • Alert banners on Sandia's external homepage, www.sandia.gov, and internal Sandia TechWeb
  • News coverage through local television and radio stations
  • Sandia Facebook, facebook.com/SandiaLabs, and
  • Sandia Twitter, twitter.com/SandiaLabs

"This new protocol allows Sandia response crews to be more efficient in their early morning clean up of parking lots because they'll be vacant and easier to clear and prepare," Brian says.

The fixed start time approach to delays was implemented at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) a few years ago and has proven to be efficient for LANL's similar large number of personnel. LANL employees enter through even fewer access points and they experience a much higher number of inclement weather days than Sandia.

The new arrival time protocol has been coordinated with Kirtland Air Force Base (KAFB) so that gates will be fully staffed at universal access times following a delay.

Delayed arrival times at Sandia apply to the entire Sandia population, except for inclement weather response teams. This includes all off-site employees, such as those reporting for work at Innovation Parkway Office Center (IPOC), the International Programs Building (IPB), and other Sandia facilities off KAFB.

Contractors must also delay their arrival time to Sandia, but cannot bill time that is not worked and cannot use the inclement weather charging code.

Sandia bases its inclement weather decisions on conditions within Sandia/KAFB.

A sample of a pre-approved Inclement Weather Work Delayed Start Time message follows:

"Due to hazardous weather conditions, Sandia Labs will open at ___ a.m. (today/tomorrow) for all employees. Check for schedule updates due to worsening weather conditions. Updated information will be posted as needed. Follow any contingency plans previously developed for weather delays, including any telecommuting work arrangements made with your manager. Information regarding road conditions can be found at www.nmroads.com."

Time Charging

  • Do not use the inclement weather TRC-270 if you were scheduled to be off work for vacation or travel, or if you worked your normally scheduled hours for the day.
  • Charge TRC-270 for any work time you missed due to the delayed start time. For example, if you normally start at 8 a.m., and Sandia delayed opening until 9 a.m., you would charge one hour of time to TRC-270.
  • By contract, staff augmentation contract associates who are impacted may not bill project(s)/task(s)for hours not worked."

Other inclement weather messages may include alerts at other times of day, such as weather warnings, early workforce releases, and Sandia closure notices.

Other Inclement Weather Considerations

When at work, as weather deteriorates, pay attention to email notices and keep in mind proactive winter precautions from Security and Emergency Management:

Emergency, Safety & Health

  • Do not overload yourself with hand-carried items while walking. High winds combined with the inability to use your hands and arms to balance make you prone to falling.
  • Be aware that the wind may stir up debris causing ear, nose, throat, and eye vulnerabilities. You should consider eye protection and respiratory guards/masks to mitigate any airborne debris hazards.
  • Be mindful of doors blowing open in windy conditions.
  • If it should snow or become icy, be aware of slipping hazards. Sandia annually averages 2-3 slips in parking lots as the result of slippery surfaces and inadequate footwear.
  • Assist others if you recognize they may be compromising their safety or the safety of others. Let's look out for one another.
  • Situational awareness is paramount when an unrecognized hazard surfaces. Situational awareness provides reaction time and space to recover from incidents that could result in injury.


  • High winds may prevent security area (i.e. Limited Area, Property Protection Area, etc.) entry/exit points from securing properly. When entering or exiting a security area, please ensure that those entry/exit points are properly secured to prevent the compromise of classified, critical infrastructure, and personnel.
  • Report any facility issues that could lead to a compromise in security at: TELECON 844-4571.
-- Cathy Ann Connelly

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