S'pore part of 3-nation solar panel project

SINGAPORE has embarked on an ambitious solar power project spanning three countries.

The aim is to test the power generation of solar panels in Singapore's tropical climate, in a temperate zone in Japan and under Australian desert conditions.

Led by the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (Seris) at the National University of Singapore, the project, which will take place in each of the countries simultaneously, will last until 2016 at least.

The findings will help researchers develop better models to predict the output of solar panels in different conditions such as varying temperatures and amount of sunlight.

Developers can then optimise solar power systems for different climate zones to enhance their performance over the systems' lifespan, said Seris deputy chief executive Thomas Reindl. This will also reduce the price that the electricity generated has to be sold at to recoup costs, he explained.

In the past, solar panels had been mostly installed in moderate climates. That meant that standards to measure output and quality were also developed in those climates.

"In harsher climate zones such as the tropics with constant high temperatures and high humidity, the existing standard tests may not be sufficient," the National Climate Change Secretariat and National Research Foundation (NRF) said in 2011.

Seris is partnering the Australian National University, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan, solar module manufacturers, certifying bodies and other organisations for its project, called TruePower Alliance.

The first outdoor tests are expected to start early next year.

The research also involves monitoring the solar panel systems' long-term performance, including the impact of dust accumulation and sand. Solar panel systems are expected to last 25 to 30 years with next to no degradation.

The project is funded by the Energy Innovation Research Programme. The researchers were among five teams that won $12 million in grants in total from the Government earlier this year in a grant call for energy innovations.

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