Shedding light on PV system shading
Installing a PV solar system is an exciting opportunity to get energy from a free and natural energy source - our sun. But are we really getting the maximum power out of our PV installation?
The most interesting (and natural) mismatch problem is “partial shading”- mismatch between the shading (and therefore illumination) of each panel.
For a traditional PV system, the answer is that the inverter will search for the optimal voltage/current for the string and therefore will “prefer” to work at the maximum current. The shaded panel will therefore be bypassed by a parallel diode so that it won't ruin the energy yield of its string-mates and allow the high current flow through the string. So in this case, 75% of the energy of a single shaded panel is lost. If there are additional shaded panels, then their energy will be lost as well, up to the point where the traditional inverter will “prefer” to lower the string current below 8A thereby reducing the power from each fully-illuminated panel but starting to gain power from the shaded panels.
Yet another interesting case relates to mismatch between panels that is not caused by shading, but behaves the same. The electrical characteristics of PV panels have some manufacturing variance (e.g. 5%) at manufacturing and it gets worse with temperature changes and over time (and PV systems are usually installed for many years). This mismatch results in a variance in the optimal current work-point for achieving maximum power from the panel. Since the string has the same current for all panels, traditional inverters try to find the optimal current that will fit most of the panels. However, there will be some energy penalty that may reach 3-5% overall and even more over time.
So what can be done in order to mitigate partial shading and other mismatch effects? Fighting shading itself by designing a better installation can help to some extent but the main problem remains (see for example this site movie where daily partial shading effects are caused during the day by rooftop chimneys in a standard installation).
The correct solution is straightforward: each PV panel should be treated separately even when connected in a serial string. This individual treatment is achieved by adding a power optimizer to each and every PV panel.
Using SolarEdge power optimizers, an energy gain of 5-20% is automatically achieved in many standard installations with partial shading and other mismatches, relative to traditional installations. I believe no one can overlook a 20% energy loss in their PV system.
Our power optimizers compensate for partial shading effects even in very dynamic environments, such as tree branches moving due to wind, and therefore provide the PV system with as much energy as the sun provides - this is where we started this discussion, isn’t it?
Let me show you a glimpse of our power optimizer system in action. Our PV monitoring system shows the energy yield during the day when shaded panels yield less energy but produce as much as they can. More importantly, the non-shaded panels keep producing maximum power with no penalty due to their string-mates. The next monitoring screenshot movie of our site physical layout map also demonstrates this: shaded panels are marked by a flag and the cumulative energy generation is shown for all panels.
Pinpointing underperforming panels on a physical site map
As seen in the next screenshot movie, a power graph of each panel in the string is shown in our monitoring web system. It is clear from the graphs that each panel builds its energy at a different rate depending on its specific illumination.
Per-panel power curves provide high accuracy remote maintenance
Ilan is a Senior System Engineer at SolarEdge, in charge of system design and advanced features development
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