Staring at the sun
What’s he building in there?
THE WORLD IS in need of green energy solutions. Wind, solar, and geothermal are some of the energy-gathering meth- ods capturing researchers’ imaginations as alternative energy sources. Harnessing power from nature depends on geographic location. Solar is the best bet for Spain, while wind might be better for stormy Scotland. So, what type of power should Canada be using?
Aaron Muron is an engineering student at the University of Ottawa SUNLab trying to figure out how advanced solar systems can work on campus. His work sits on the Sports Complex rooftop, tracking the sun.
We can see the sun dim when a cloud passes over it, but there’s little data on how this impacts solar energy. Most simulations available are designed for a “standard atmosphere,” which might not accurately describe the climate in Canada.
To get a better sense of Ottawa’s and, subsequently, Canada’s climate, Mu- ron and his associates assembled a solar tracker with various types of solar cells. The cells include ultra-high efficiency triple junction cells that follow the sun throughout the day, generating power. The outputs of the various cells are con- stantly recorded and sent back to the lab for analysis.
The tracker was also fitted with a spectrometer and a camera that point directly at the sun. This allows the SUNLab team to match changes in the computer systems to changes in the sun’s intensity and spectrum, com- paring them to weather conditions.
Different types of cloud cover have different effects on the sun’s light and can be dealt with differently—low-lying clouds tend to block most of the light while higher, thinner clouds just distort it.
With new information about how the climate changes the sun’s light, researchers can assess how solar energy will fit into Ottawa’s, and Canada’s, future.
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