J1.2 Determining Atmospheric Conditions That Impact Solar Energy Potential in Nevada

Tuesday, 24 January 2017: 4:15 PM
606 (Washington State Convention Center )
G. Aaron Alexander, University of Nevada, Reno, NV; and H. A. Holmes, W. P. Arnott, J. C. Barnard, and A. Rollings

As the planet begins to run low on fossil fuels and high on air pollution, alternative options, such as solar power, are becoming ever important. Solar panels can be positioned to maximize energy efficiency by understanding which atmospheric factors influence their outputs. Problems with solar panels arise due to their heavy dependence on clear skies for optimal utility. Moreover, the presence of clouds or aerosols in high concentrations can severely impact the efficiency of these devices.  The goal of this study is to use historical data and identify the major meteorological variables that correlate with improved and/or decreased performance of solar panels. The meteorological variables negatively impacting solar energy output are seasonal solar irradiance, cloud cover, and columnar aerosol concentrations. Atmospheric aerosols are important for understanding the performance of solar panel efficiency due to aerosol deposition on panel surfaces in arid and semi-arid climates, such as the region of northern Nevada. Meteorological data were collected from various monitoring sites in and near Reno, Nevada. These data sets were combined with one quantifying direct and diffuse solar radiation, obtained using a Multifilter Rotating Shadowband Radiometer (MFRSR) stationed at the University of Nevada, Reno. Solar panel data, collocated with the MFRSR, was used to directly compare which atmospheric events strongly influence the power output of the solar panels.

This presentation will show results from 2015 using MFRSR, solar panel output, and the meteorological data sets. These data sets were combined to analyze the impacts of common atmospheric conditions in northern Nevada on solar energy output.  Cloud cover and aerosol results were confirmed visually using sky camera images.  The images were also used to filter the results by cloud type, e.g. cirrus versus stratus clouds and their impact on solar energy output.  A main goal of this study is to identify the relationship between meteorological variables and solar panel energy output.  One of the strongest candidates for large outputs is incoming downward shortwave solar radiation, while cloud cover is a clear contributor to decreased solar energy outputs. This work is funded as an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program through the Nevada NSF Experimental Program to Simulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program. The results shown here will contribute directly to a future study using the Weather Research and Forecasting model to estimate the impacts of atmospheric conditions on solar energy, also part of the UROP. The ultimate goal of this UROP project is to create a solar energy potential map of the state of Nevada, which will provide insight on locations for new solar energy projects in the state.

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