One of the biggest problems we encountered going into this new season was that our solar panels were producing a lot less power than we expected them to. Timothy Jou (10) states, “Upon analyzing our solar panel output, we realized that they were not performing to our expectations.”
To figure out why this was happening, we decided to build an electroluminescence camera (EL camera). This camera was constructed by connecting a Raspberry Pi camera with its infrared filter replaced with a visible light filter to a raspberry pi, monitor, and keyboard. When an electrical current is put through the solar panels, they emit infrared light. Using the EL camera, we can see the infrared light that is emitted. Additionally, we used a thermal camera to also see the heat being released from our solar panels. With this testing, we were able to identify many faulty solder joints and cells in the solar panels.
Photo taken on the thermal camera. The brighter red spots indicate heat.
Photo taken on the EL camera. Darker spots are places that are producing less power.
We decided that instead of fixing our existing solar panels, we would create new ones. To aid this process, we created a soldering syringe by using a syringe, 3d printed part, linear actuator, and Arduino Uno. This tool allows us to pour controlled amounts of solder paste with the push of a button. We also held a meeting with the solar panel manufacturing company, SunPower, to get advice and learn how to solder solar panels properly and efficiently. We incorporated the many tips we learned such as how much solder paste to use and how long to heat it into our solar cell soldering practice. We spent lots of time soldering to improve our skills, so we decided to work on other important tasks. Opal Heltzel (11) says, “Currently, we are working on designs of the panels on AutoCAD and different jigs we could make to solder together the cells. It is a tedious process, but it will be worth it in the end.”
We need to keep working on finalizing our AutoCAD designs and build a jig before we can start constructing the solar panels for real. It will be an exciting challenge!