Scientists let the sun shine in at Lauder

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Scientists based at NIWA’s research station in Central Otago are undertaking a new set of experiments to determine how the atmosphere affects the performance of solar panels.

The station at Lauder, 35km from Alexandra, is having photovoltaic panels installed that will be capable of generating 18KW of electricity at their peak – almost enough to power the huge array of specialist equipment housed there.

Lauder is home to a range of some of the best instruments in the world for atmospheric research and specialises in measuring CRCs, ozone, UV levels and greenhouse gases and this year received a significant international endorsement of its capabilities as a world-class upper-air measurement site.

Atmospheric scientist Ben Liley said the installation of the panels provided the opportunity to collect data on the solar power generated and compare it with their measurements and predictions. 

“As the premier site in New Zealand for measuring solar radiation, Lauder has many instruments that separately measure direct and diffuse components of radiation, the spectral composition of visible and UV radiation, and the patterns and coverage of clouds.

“With these data, we can determine what affects solar panel performance and refine our understanding and ability to advise on the effects of elements such as aerosols,” Mr Liley said.

Scientists expect to use the data to make improvements to NIWA’s online SolarView tool.

This provides an estimate of the available solar energy at a particular address taking into account the landscape, nearby buildings and placement of solar panels. It can be used by people considering installing a solar energy system.

Lauder is also the calibration site for all of NIWA’s radiation sensors which make continuous recordings across its network of long-term climate monitoring stations around New Zealand.

Mr Liley said New Zealand was one of the best suited countries in the world to take advantage of solar power.

“Because Lauder is a commercial workplace there is plenty of demand for electricity during the day so we will be feeding our solar power straight into powering our machines,” Mr Liley said.

The installation will take place over the next few weeks.

To use SolarView go to:  solarview.niwa.co.nz 

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Atmospheric Scientist
Lauder Atmospheric Research Station - Dobson station. Credit: Dave Hansford