Solar in more shapes and sizes

Anne BrockOur Town Outdoors

So, you’ve seen solar on your neighbor’s rooftop or in the traditional community solar ground-mounted array along the interstate. Will it always look like that? Continuing research could put this renewable energy resource in more places – maybe in more shapes and sizes than we’ve ever seen.

Could cattle coexist with this modern construction? Researchers say perhaps. Previously, PennState Extension told us solar arrays could only withstand grazing from sheep. An association for solar grazers also favors sheep. But, as the Department of Energy continues funding research on agrivoltaics that pairs solar production with farm production, the focus includes cows, too. University of Minnesota researchers have let part of a dairy herd graze near and find shade under panels with taller racking, finding no significant difference with cows grazing in open fields.

Could solar arrays look more like fences someday? PV Magazine reports that researchers in the Netherlands are finding slightly more efficient use of vertical solar panels. It has to do with lower operating temperatures as the panels absorb sunlight to convert to electricity. This data is from the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands.

East Tennessee doesn’t have to look far for leading researchers making solar energy work better for everyone. Oak Ridge National Laboratory has created a way to make solar-powered microgrids work together more efficiently. This microgrid orchestrator helped communities in Puerto Rico, where the area is prone to losing power in hurricanes. ORNL is also researching medium-voltage electronics technology to help the power grid work more in harmony with solar energy production.

Anne Brock is marketing coordinator for Solar Alliance, which designs and manages solar installation projects for manufacturers and small businesses. She can be reached at or 865-221-8349.


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