CALUMET Mich. (WJMN) – Michigan Technological University and Sandia National Laboratories partnered to open the U.S. Department of Energy’s newest Solar Energy Regional Test Center in Calumet. The Michigan Tech facility will allow this program a unique location to research how effective new technology is for solar power in severe winter environments.

“As you Yoopers know, the Upper Peninsula sees a lot of snow in winter and a lot of cold,” said Dr. Lauri Burnham, the leader of the Department of Energy’s Regional Test Center program. “So it represents an extreme environment for evaluating solar technologies. It’s an extreme environment for snow, but what’s really significant is that snow is a problem for most of the United States. Every single state in the United States has snow at some altitude at some point in time and major blizzards can affect more than 30% of the United States. So, understanding how snow impacts solar performance is not just an Upper Peninsula challenge, it’s really a national challenge.” 

Through this facility, researchers will be able to test new methods of rapid snow removal from the solar panels.

“Well, we’d like the panels not to have to be serviced, because they may be in a, you know, an upper level, or they may be remote,” said Jeff Naber, the director of the Advanced Power Systems Research Center. “So, best if they can shed the snow themselves. So you can think like if it’s a metal roof it’s more likely to shed if it’s at the right temperature and it’s not sticky. So, there’s panels that have different configurations and we are trying to understand under what conditions, what temperatures, what snow loads, they will self shed. Because if you can self shed then it’s a non maintenance, so it’s really about trying to understand how we can improve technologies for shedding snow loads off these, that don’t require physical cleaning. If I have to go and do physical cleaning, that’s manpower, and I also have the chance that I could damage the surface of the solar cell.”

The researchers involved in this program are hoping that this project will drive the growth of solar power in northern regions.

If you want to know more about this research, find the MTU press release here.