New solar lab shines in tropical research

SINGAPORE - The Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (Seris) yesterday opened the only full-scale facility that can test and develop solar modules in South-east Asia, and showed off a system adapted for Singapore's climate.

The $6 million, 1,700 sq m facility at CleanTech Park in Jurong, which serves both academic and industry clients, brings together existing facilities previously located elsewhere at the National University of Singapore and International Business Park.

Most other solar facilities are not in the tropics, so this one has the "natural advantage" of being able to conduct long-term outdoor tests of solar panels in such a climate, said Dr Thomas Reindl, deputy chief executive of Seris, the national institute for applied solar research.

Besides outdoor testing, the facility can produce full-size solar modules for research purposes; simulate full sun evenly across the surface of a panel to benchmark its performance; simulate various climate conditions; and test the mechanical loads that panels can withstand.

It will also enable more researchers to interact, and adds capacity to test more modules at the same time, he added.

Seris aims to make Singapore the global test centre for solar systems in the tropics, he said.

The main hurdle to solar power being used in South-east Asia is cost. In Singapore, the high price of electricity makes solar energy an attractive alternative, though the total installed capacity is a paltry 15 to 20 megawatts.

Already, solar makers here and from countries like Malaysia, component makers, and buyers have engaged its testing services.

Yesterday, Seris showed a new "Singapore module" adapted to its climate. Composed of solar cells encased in a tough glass frame, the model has waterproofing to withstand humidity, and textured glass that allows cells to soak in Singapore's diffuse light instead of smooth glass that would reflect too much.

Work on the module began in 2011. Dr Reindl said Seris is discussing commercialising the product with several companies.

Seris is evaluating proposals to float 10 solar systems each with 100-kilowatt peak ratings on Tengeh Reservoir by the end of this year.

It is developing a website to show the solar-energy potential of each rooftop in Singapore. This could be online by the second quarter of next year.

This article was first published on July 19, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.