/ Modified jun 29, 2015 9:34 a.m.

METRO WEEK: Solar Energy Advances in the Southwest

As residents add solar, companies try to improve solar panels

Solar power is expanding in Arizona, and as it does, University of Arizona researchers are studying the durability of the panels that produce energy from the sun.

“The big thing we look at is how different modules degrade with time,” said Adria Brooks, a research specialist in solar energy and photovoltaic systems at the University of Arizona.

“The way in which a module fails in the field is going to be very different in Arizona than it might be somewhere else, like in the Pacific Northwest or Florida,” she said.

The research involves comparing panels side-by-side to see what materials work better, and how they do in various weather conditions.

Brooks' research site is near the Tucson Electric Power coal-burning power plant near Interstate 10 and South Alvernon Way.

“TEP started this yard in 2003 when a lot of people started putting solar on their houses, TEP was interested in what’s that going to do to our grid,” she said. The company then invited the University to do research.

UA does all the research and TEP provides funding and electrical assistance when necessary.

These are common questions people ask Brooks, and her answers.

Do I need batteries in my house?
If you’re grid connected, no need for battery. The grid moves your energy elsewhere, and you rely on coal when you’re not producing

Should I clean my solar panels?
No, dust causes only a small (1 percent) reduction in the panels’ efficiency.

Why don’t we have solar everywhere?
Mainly, because of technological and political reasons. We like to use electricity whenever we want it, solar is limited to when the sun is out. So we meld those with coal for flip-of-the-switch power.

Arizona Public Media reporters Vanessa Barchfield and Zac Ziegler produced a 4-part series on the future of solar power in Arizona. Read and listen here.

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