The Renewable Energy Testing Initiative (RETI) is located at Brisbane Technology Park in Queensland, and is the first independent testing and monitoring facility in the Southern Hemisphere to offer real-time, in-the-field solar panel monitoring – available online 24 hours per day, seven days a week through its website.
The facility features a large, un-shaded testing field in conditions representative of the typical climate experienced in Australian communities. It also incorporates a conference auditorium that can seat more than 750 people, conference centres and board rooms with audio visual conferencing capabilities, and a show room with an interactive display of all the systems being monitored at the facility. Its staff are available to the public and wider solar community with any enquiries about the testing and monitoring of solar products.
RETI has been in development for the past 12 months, and says that it will offer ongoing services not obtainable through standard tests. A number of solar modules are already in place at the facility and being tested, including from aleo solar, XHD, AVIM, S-ENERGY, BLD, Phono, Sunearth and SILIKEN, and new products will come online for testing in the final months of 2012.
“The clean energy industry has responded strongly to the inception of RETI, and has recognised the facility as a ‘must-have’ for the photovoltaic (PV) sector,” says Darrell Wilson of RETI. “With the current amount of solar panel manufacturers in the market, too many companies are claiming product performances which they are sometimes unable to substantiate, and we intend to help identify quality products and best-practice suppliers.Article continues below…
“The opportunity now exists to test complete solar systems at the RETI facility, and help consumers better understand the environmental and commercial gains made through PV installation.”
How RETI works
Along with traditional methods of flash testing or sun simulation reports, RETI has developed new test conditions to better understand solar PV in the real world, which include IV curve tracing in the field, live product comparisons online, temperature co-efficient analysis, and downloadable reports including daily and monthly results for panels, microinverters and central inverters, dual axis tracking and directional variation.
RETI field reports show the overall kilowatt hours of the PV systems installed, while the inverter reports show overall daily efficiency and independent monitoring of direct current and alternating current. “RETI does not rely on protocols supplied by the manufacturers – all measurements are obtained independently,” says Mr Wilson.
“The manufacturers are supplied with a log-in, which enables technical staff to analyse recorded data through a CSV file; information such as dual axis tracking, directional variations and a wealth of other data is only available to nominated parties.”
Products that are delivered to the solar testing and monitoring facility will have their specific details logged, and an entry report compiled. The entry report consists of a flash test and an IV curve; this is to ensure that the products delivered to RETI are within the power tolerances as detailed on the product’s specification sheet, according to Mr Wilson. If the product is not within specification, under- or over-performs, or does not give an accurate indication of the product that would be released to the market, the product will be rejected and returned to the supplier for re-evaluation.
“It is RETI’s intention to reduce the likelihood of an over-performing panel that could deliberately misrepresent what the industry and consumer can expect in field conditions,” Mr Wilson explains. “Once a product has been flash-tested in our sun simulator and has passed the entry level report, an IV curve will be generated as the base line for the product,” RETI explains. “The module will then be installed at the solar monitoring facility and fitted with a solar power analysing unit, which has been specially developed by the research and development team at RETI.
“In addition to data from the solar modules, the test field employs several highly accurate devices to continuously measure solar irradiance, ultra violet radiation, panel temperature, ambient temperature and wind speed. Solar modules and weather data is then stored in synchronised databases to ensure precise correlation for later analysis.”
Information gathered from the RETI test field is then correlated and calculated to give a performance and yield comparison between modules. RETI says that it is not its intention to prove ‘who has the best-performing solar panel’ – although this information will be available – but rather to show who has the better capital return on expenditure.
Future plans for expanding RETI
Mr Wilson says that RETI is continuously developing new field test methods to better understand the performance of solar PV in the field, and future development is set to include all types of clean energy technologies, from wind and wave generators to biodiesel.
One of the new field tests that has been developed at RETI is the ability to calculate the temperature co-efficient of power from a panel’s performance in the field, and then being able to print out that information along with other data, including peak power, total daily yield, or the average temperature for any day, week or month the contracted party chooses.
RETI aims to invite all solar PV and inverter manufacturers to participate in its field monitoring program to help expand industry knowledge of solar performance, and to help consumers and investors in small- and large-scale systems make an informed decision on which solar system best suits and meets their expectations.
“It is RETI’s intention to collaborate with industry-leading research institutions and statistical groups to help create a wider understanding of renewable energy in the market. Of particular interest to the consumer and manufacturers will be the long-term yield results from the favourable, but often harsh, Australasian climate,” Mr Wilson notes.
“The long-term field yield results will aid manufacturers understand the effects of climate on their product, and foster further research and development into reducing solar panel degradation over time and increase overall efficiency in the field.”
In November 2012, RETI will release comparative data on different technologies and system performances – particularly comparing microinverter performance against central inverter performance. In the early months of 2013, RETI will release a rankings report on all products installed at the testing facility, designed to be a comprehensive look at products tested in the field and exposed to Australian conditions.