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Researchers Receive Grant to Develop Solar Sensing, Tracking System

February 3, 2010

Proposed project would benefit energy suppliers that utilize
solar by allowing them to know in advance conditions that would
impact their systems ability to produce electricity

Solar Energy
UC Merced researchers are
developing a system that will measure the amount of sunlight that
reaches ground level where panels and concentrators used in solar
energy systems collect light and heat to turn into

MERCED, CA— The sun never sets when it comes
to advancing
energy research
and technology at the University of California, Merced.

Even in the midst of winter, researchers are working on
innovative projects that will improve the effectiveness and
efficiency of solar power as a renewable energy source.

School of Engineering assistant professor

Alberto Cerpa
has received a $568,202 grant from the National
Science Foundation to develop a system that will measure and track
the amount of solar irradiance (sunlight) that reaches ground level
where photovoltaic panels and solar concentrators used in solar
energy systems collect light and heat to turn into electricity.

The three-year grant, funded under the federal American Recovery
and Reinvestment Act of 2009, is for the project “MRI: Development
of ASSIST: Affordable System for Solar Irradiance Sensing and
Tracking.” Cerpa, along with associate professor

Carlos Coimbra
and assistant professor

Qinghua Guo
are developing a system that will help make it
easier for energy producers to determine the most optimal
opportunities to use solar.

“We are excited that the National Science Foundation has funded
this innovative project,” said Samuel J. Traina, vice chancellor
for research. “Professor Cerpa’s proposal shows great promise and
this grant will help him and his colleagues develop a much-needed
solution that will greatly advance the field of solar energy.”

Solar power systems can generate significant amounts of
electricity on hot, cloudless summer days. But during winter, when
weather conditions are more varied and cloud cover affects the
amount of sunlight a photovoltaic cell collects, the amount of
electricity that solar system will generate is less predictable on
a day-to-day basis. That unpredictability, in turn, can hamper
solar energy’s cost-effectiveness. Energy suppliers that utilize
solar would benefit by knowing in advance when their system is able
to produce the amount of electricity to meet customers’ needs and
when to rely on other energy sources.

ASSIST will make

solar forecasting
more precise and will enable electricity
providers to better plan and manage solar generation systems within
their electrical grids. Furthermore, the system will be developed
and tested in California’s Central Valley, an ideal location to
develop solar energy because of the amount of sunlight the region
receives during the year, particularly during summer months.

ASSIST will use a network of sensors that collects data on solar
irradiance at ground levels. The sensors will measure and track
cloud cover, aerosol content and the presence of gases such as
water vapor and carbon dioxide — all of which can reduce the
amount of sunlight a solar cell can collect — in the Earth’s
lower atmosphere and stratosphere.

Professor Alberto Cerpa
School of Engineering assistant
professor Alberto Cerpa.

Cerpa explained that ASSIST will work in conjunction with two
existing solar observatories, located at UC Merced and UC Davis.
What will make the proposed system affordable is that it combines
the use of a small number of expensive and highly calibrated solar
observatories with a larger number of inexpensive nodes that will
collect and relay data. A major innovative aspect of ASSIST is that
it will integrate stand-alone wireless global irradiance sensors
with a new dome sensor, eliminating the need for devices with
costly moving parts, such as automatic solar trackers.

ASSIST will enable engineers, computer and earth system
scientists to quantify data at levels not yet seen – even
with current state-of-the-art instruments used in solar observation
research. If successful, ASSIST could be adopted by national and
international observatory efforts such as the Solar and Wind Energy
Resource Assessment (SWERA) project.

Additionally, the project will allow UC Merced faculty and
students – at both undergraduate and graduate levels —
in the campus’ environmental engineering and electrical engineering
and computer science programs to expand their knowledge and further
researchskills as they
work on issues of scientific and societal relevance.

Projects such as ASSIST illustrate UC Merced’s continuing goal
to create and develop renewable energy options and promote
sustainability efforts that will have a lasting impact on
California, the nation and the world.

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