SunPower partnership sparks new solar module

By Kelly Sullivan

Photography By Brett Latter

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Leading US solar manufacturer visits NM Regional Test Center to see experimental photovoltaic system in action

solar scientists discuss photovoltaics in solar field
SOLAR FUTURE — From left front, Sandia scientists Laurie Burnham and Bruce King and SunPower engineer Adam Hoffman discuss the photovoltaic manufacturer’s next-generation PV system, which is being evaluated at the New Mexico Regional Test Center, as well as at RTCs in Nevada and Florida. Behind the group, SunPower engineer Fabrizio Farina inspects the RTC monitoring system.

Representatives from SunPower Corp., a leading U.S. solar manufacturer and global competitor, recently visited the New Mexico Regional Test Center, co-located with Sandia’s Photovoltaic Systems Evaluation Laboratory, to inspect their company’s experimental PV system.

Laurie Burnham, Sandia scientist and principal investigator for the Labs’ RTC project, organized the event, which included a stop for the SunPower team at the Nevada RTC before touching down in New Mexico, and then 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,” Laurie said.

“In addition, the partnerships we establish through the RTC program represent a win-win: U.S. 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.

Solar research support

solar scientists discuss photovoltaics
SIMULATING SOLAR — From left, Sandia scientists Bruce King and Laurie Burnham discuss the technical capabilities of the solar simulator at Sandia’s Photovoltaic Systems Evaluation Laboratory with SunPower engineers Adam Hoffman and Fabrizio Farina.

The half-day New Mexico visit by SunPower Senior Module Performance Engineer Adam Hoffman and Field Engineer 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.

During his visit, Hoffman provided an informal presentation of the challenges and opportunities facing the solar sector from a manufacturer’s perspective, including an overview of the company’s research and development interests and a description of their outdoor testing facility in Davis, California. Hoffman also emphasized their 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,” he said.

The meeting concluded with the visitors and researchers braving ice, wind and snow for a tour of Sandia’s PSEL facility. Technical Director Bruce King guided the guests through the site, which included an extended stop at the SunPower experimental system.

DOE RTC program

solar scientists discuss photovoltaics in solar field
SYSTEM FEATURES — From left, Fabrizio Farina, Laurie Burnham, Adam Hoffman and Bruce King discuss some of the unique features of Sandia’s Photovoltaic Systems Evaluation Laboratory.

The NM RTC is one of four regional centers throughout the country and part of the larger DOE RTC program. The DOE 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.

To learn more about Sandia’s work with photovoltaics and involvement with the DOE Regional Test Center Program, visit the Labs’ Photovoltaic Systems Evaluation Laboratory and NM RTC program websites.