Sandia Labs News Releases

Sandia National Laboratories and SunPower Corp. extend solar energy research partnership

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sandia National Laboratories and SunPower Corp. recently formalized an agreement to conduct research on integrating large-scale photovoltaic (PV) systems into the grid. By signing a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), the organizations will leverage approximately $1 million of combined U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and SunPower funding. Additionally, a consortium led by SunPower, which includes Sandia as a partner, was recently awarded a $1 million grant from the California Solar Initiative (CSI) to improve modeling of high-penetration PV systems.

“This partnership will enable Sandia and SunPower to capitalize on their respective strengths and bring together PV modeling and analysis expertise with extensive system data to answer many of the urgent questions facing utility companies and their customers who are turning to clean, solar energy resources,” said Terry Michalske, director of Energy and Security Systems at Sandia.

“As an experienced leader in developing and delivering high-efficiency solar cells and systems, SunPower is pleased to partner with Sandia Labs, an expert in predicting PV output and modeling,” said Jack Peurach, vice president of advanced product development for SunPower. “I’m confident that our collaboration will lead to innovative technology solutions for our utility customers today and in the future.”

Historically, the use of PV systems has contributed less than 1 percent of global generation capacity, and has had only minimal impact to the grid. Decreasing costs, state and federal incentives and increased interest in clean energy sources are helping to accelerate the use of solar power.

According to a recent report published by the Solar Electric Industries Association, the solar industry grew in 2009 despite economic concerns. The total U.S. solar electric capacity from PV and concentrated solar power (CSP) technologies exceeded 2,000 MW, which is enough to serve more than 350,000 homes.

However, solar power, like other alternative energy sources, provides a varying amount of electricity. As such sources are increasingly added to the grid, utility companies must find a way to ensure that the power system continues to operate reliably and cost-effectively, whether the sun is shining or not. This is a new challenge for many utility systems operators.

“A question worth asking is: what are the possible impacts of connecting very large PV systems or a lot of smaller, distributed PV systems on the grid, and what are the solutions for mitigating these impacts? It’s not just a rhetorical question anymore,” said Sandia photovoltaic systems researcher Abraham Ellis. “It is a question that many utility companies are grappling with right now. Part of the problem is that we lack specialized tools and data to properly assess the impact on the grid and evaluate mitigation alternatives. This partnership will help address those challenges.”

Through the CRADA and the CSI grant, Sandia and SunPower Corp. are well-positioned to create better grid-integration simulation models and develop new tools to better understand how utility power systems are affected by the variability of solar generation. Both fields are relatively new, but both organizations will draw on their extensive expertise in the field of PV power generation.

Sandia and SunPower have been working through Sandia’s CRADA since February and have already started producing new models and simulation tools.  The results will soon be disseminated through joint publications. The collaboration between Sandia and SunPower is expected to achieve significant results over the next two years.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Sandia media relations contact: Stephanie Hobby, (505) 844-0948