SPEEDING UP SNOW SHEDDING ON BIFACIAL MODULES

After relocating the company from the milder winters of Italy to the extreme weather conditions in Canada, Silfab, the largest manufacturer of solar modules in North America, partnered with SEARC to characterise
the performance of solar modules from various manufacturers in order to optimise their own product. “We were able to show that a new company like Silfab, coming to Canada from Italy, was able to manufacture
modules that were able to survive and thrive in Canadian conditions.”

Silfab has engaged in multiple research partnerships with SEARC. The most recent collaboration involved testing of the company’s new bifacial module that “generates electricity on only on the sunny side, but on the back side of the modules.” on the back side of the modules.” Additionally, these panels gain enough heat through the reflection of the sun on the backside, speeding up the shedding of snow on the front of the panels, which enables
the panel to produce more power. Testing the panels at different angles, SEARC was able to identify the optimal installation angle for electricity production based on this reflectionary principal. SEARC and Silfab were able to determine the additional value that a bifacial panel offers beyond a mono-facial panel and can now provide the company’s customers with academically validated, real-world product information.

“Almost $20 million per year of Silfab sales are expected to have been
facilitated by the findings of the project.” 

Paolo Maccario – General Manager, Silfab Solar

THE EVOLUTION OF PREDICTING REVENUE LOSSES BASED
ON CLIMATIC CONDITIONS

“I was doing a Phd in Mechanical Material Engineering at Queen’s and we were looking for a facility to install an outdoor test field to study, primarily, the effects of snow fall on solar panels, but also the effects of some unique design methodology,” says Rob Andrews, who is currently the CEO of Heliolytics in Toronto. “We partnered with St. Lawrence College to build the [Performance Improvement and Testing Lab], which was a series of outdoor solar panels on the rooftop of the wind turbine building at the college.”

For his thesis, Andrews, joined by the Mechanical Engineering team at Queen’s and different project partners, partnered with the college to better understand “the mechanics behind snowfall effects on solar farm performance.” Essentially, The team was looking to understand how northern climates influence power production on solar farms. The research team also investigated “how snowfall in Canada affects the output of solar farms and the different tools and techniques we can use to mitigate
any losses.” The information gained from the project has been used in different industries to assist snowfall loss assumptions and has also been cited in academic publications.

Ade was the lead researcher at the time. “The project started when I came into the college. I helped find industry partners who were interested in the Snow Study. Some of them were committed to providing treatments and solar affordability assistance to support the study and I worked with them to help manage their expectations.”

Students hired at SEARC apply their education and gain valuable hands on experience in the sustainable energy industry. By partnering with Applied Research at St. Lawrence College, industry professionals, small and mid-sized companies can develop research projects engaging students and
faculty in a way that is affordable and flexible.

In the end, over a two winter project, the results of the Snow Study found that the losses due to snowfall were dependant on the angle of the panels, and could be more accurately predictable under these newly acquired test results.

Rob Andrews – CEO – Heliolytics, Queen’s Mechanical Engineering Phd
Abe Babasola – Project Manager, Union Gas

“The quality of St. Lawrence College and the students was fantastic… we had that really good combination of people who were extremely curious and passionate about the work we were doing but also had a good strong skillset to allow us to make these things happen.” 

Rob Andrews – CEO Heliolytics, Queen’s Mechanical Engineering, PhD