emily newton

Why Are More Solar Modules at Risk for Thermal Runaway?

Many people are exploring how they could expand their renewable energy usage, including solar battery storage products. These solutions allow the storage of excess power produced for later use. That strategy is particularly convenient for individuals living in cloudy climates. However, high-wattage solar panels and internal faults can make thermal runaway events more likely.
Why Are More Solar Modules at Risk for Thermal Runaway?
Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

People May Not Know About Solar Battery Storage Risks

Individuals worldwide are quickly becoming aware of solar battery storage as an option, and many are eager to install relevant products. Statista indicated only 3 gigawatts’ worth of electricity capacity from solar battery storage in 2020. However, the site’s analysis expects that figure to rise to 134 gigawatts by 2035. That’s an incredible jump in only 15 years.

Relatedly, a December 2022 report from the International Energy Agency found the world’s amount of renewable power will rise as much in the next five years as it did over the past two decades. These scenarios alone don’t contribute to an increased risk of solar runaway, but they highlight the recent risk elevation.

Many people may want to invest in solar energy as quickly as possible, especially if taking advantage of a tax credit. That could mean they won’t take the time to self-educate about thermal runaway issues associated with solar battery storage. Similarly, installers may not bring up those matters when working with clients. After all, if the main goal is to sell a customer a product, it makes sense that installation professionals will focus on the positives.

Victoria Carey is a senior consultant of energy storage at DNV GL. She explained that some customers have historically treated solar energy batteries as black-box add-on components for their setups. They believed the systems were theoretically safe because they didn’t have moving parts. However, people are becoming more aware that storage systems are low-risk when installed properly but not risk-free.

Customers should always take the time to find experienced and professionally trained installers that can suggest and source the most appropriate solutions. Despite the possibility of thermal runaway, solar battery storage options have notable benefits. Many commercial clients use them to increase reliable operations during unpredictable weather, making them indispensable for certain industries.

High-Wattage Solar Panels Have an Elevated Risk

People are progressively excited about pushing the boundaries of solar power so the associated equipment is more powerful and efficient. However, an analysis suggested a trend toward high-wattage solar panels could make thermal runaway events more likely.

The company’s angle is that high-wattage solar panels need special design considerations to reduce the risk. For example, it sells a solar module with a 13.9 amperes lower front-side short circuit current value, whereas other modules’ current values are 18.5 amperes. The idea is that lower currents will make the product more stable over the long term, reducing the risk of thermal runaway incidents. They should also keep the module’s temperature at a safe level not characterized by temperature-related erraticness.

Their analysis also details how thermal runaway can become more likely when solar panels operate in shaded outdoor areas. It states that something as seemingly harmless as an accumulation of dust or leaves can stop and reverse the current. However, engineers can create designs that utilize components that allow users to operate panels safely, even in those conditions.

The company that analyzed high-wattage solar panels intends to establish itself as a change-leading entity that reshapes solar module design. That means its review likely has some bias, though that doesn’t wholly discount the content.

Further Research Will Make Solar Battery Storage Safer

Scientists, product designers and other professionals want to explore viable possibilities to help people feel confident about using battery-storage products and not worrying about solar runaway events. One thing to remember is that issues are most common with Li-ion batteries, but they can occur with any type.

A team at South Korea’s Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology found critical changes in electric double-layer capacitors that alter their thermal properties during charging and discharging. They believe their studies will increase the safety of battery-storage devices used with solar power setups.

The group conducted experiments as batteries charged and operated various devices. The respective data during those tests showed that positive and negative electrode temperatures changed by 0.92% and 0.42%.

Elsewhere, Chinese researchers studied the types of Li-ion battery abuse that can most likely lead to thermal runaway. They created three categories: Thermal, mechanical and electrical. They then penetrated the batteries with a nail, heated them from the side and overcharged them. Those behaviors reflected the abuse types studied. The results indicated thermal runaway events caused by overcharging were the most hazardous.

Applying New Knowledge to Elevate Safety

Product designers, manufacturers and others could use the information here and in other academic papers to improve the safety of solar battery storage options. They might include a built-in feature that prevents overcharging or warn people to carefully inspect any batteries subjected to physical trauma. Reducing the risk of thermal runaway starts at the design and manufacturing level, but it continues by informing customers what’s within their control to reduce such events.

Such collective efforts should become even more common as people raise awareness that solar battery technology is generally safe but still comes with a thermal runaway risk. Such progress will elevate safety in solar energy and other fields that use batteries or promote their usage as technologies improve and researchers are better informed.

Risk Reduction Increases Safety

The final thing to remember is that solar battery storage systems are far from the only products associated with thermal runaways. However, overheating and fires could become more prominent as more people become interested in using them. Fortunately, scientists, consumers and others who become aware of the risks can work together to reduce them, keeping everyone safer.

No strategies can eliminate thermal runaway risks, despite experts’ best efforts. However, people should also realize that solar modules are less likely to experience them if individuals design, manufacture and install them properly. Hopefully, that will happen as more people become aware of the risks and solutions.

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