Outdoor testing of some commercial solar panels found on the Zambian market in terms of their fill-factor and efficiency.

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Chiyesu, Simeon
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The University of Zambia
The power utility company in Zambia, the Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO) introduced load-shedding in urban and rural areas in 2015 when the country experienced severe drought and caused low water levels in our hydropower stations for power generation and distribution. To mitigate load-shedding the Government of the Republic of Zambia (GRZ) encouraged citizens to consider using solar energy for lighting, TV or radio operations or water heating and run small businesses such as saloons and barber shops using solar power. Most solar solutions are in the form of photovoltaic (PV) systems, solar heaters and solar geysers. Solar panels, for example, have output ratings displayed on their back side. These values give the solar panel output power specifications and the quality of the solar panels. However, there has been no technical report (from the author) on the data provided by different solar panel manufacturers and the locally tested data as a validation of the quality of solar panels on the Zambian market. It is a known fact that solar panels are tested under standard test conditions such as solar irradiance of 1000 W/m2, temperature of 25℃, and air mass of AM 1.5 different from out-door environmental conditions. The aim of this research is to validate the quality of solar panels available on the Zambian market by comparing the manufacturer’s claims with outdoor tested parameters based on local conditions. The study will collect data on the types and sizes of solar panels supplied in Zambia and test each category of power ratings, fill factor and efficiency. The study will use the I-V curve tracer to determine I-V characteristics and a Solar Survey Meter 200R instrument to obtain solar irradiance, panel tilt and panel temperature. The findings showed that there are substandard solar panels on the Zambian market with an average power output drop as high as 45%, much higher than the recommended power drop of 16.5%. One of the major reasons for this power drop is the degradation of the cells and hence an increase in series resistance of the panels arising from an increase in temperature of the solar cells and thermo-mechanical fatigue of the solder bonds and interconnections. Based on the above findings, the study recommends regulatory measures for manufacturers and suppliers as well as education and assistance for citizens on the usage, maintenance and choice of solar photovoltaic systems.
Thesis of Master of Science in Physics