Solar energy innovations are slowly but surely expanding. As much as solar energy increasingly looks to be a viable green alternative to less eco-friendly alternatives, however, it does still face challenges.
Some of these challenges were outlined in a previous post here on the advantages and disadvantages of solar power — the disadvantages including issues like cost, required space, slow ROI, and so on. These are some of the difficult factors that the budding solar energy industry has to overcome if solar power is to become as widespread as many would like to see.
Another such challenge that gets far less attention, however, is innovation in printed circuit boards. It is easy to think of solar panels as devices that power themselves, store energy, and transfer it to where it can be put to use. That is to say, we don’t always think of them as electronic devices so much as pure energy receptacles. In fact, however, PCBs play a vital role in making solar power feasible. They help to drive the functions of inverters, which convert the energy the solar panel gathers into alternating current electricity — which is distributed on electrical grids and put to use.
This means that even if most solar panel designs don’t call for the direct use of PCBs, an overall solar energy apparatus depends on these tiny electrical circuits quite a lot. And for PCBs to be ready for mass deployment in an expanding solar market means designers and manufacturers will need to meet a few specific challenges.
Even with regard to other devices and applications, heat management is part of the equation with modern PCBs. There are a lot of demands placed on a lot of our electronics today, and those demands can quickly overheat a PCB that is poorly designed, or which is made with the wrong materials. In the solar power industry, this has the potential to become even more of a problem.
The heat of solar panels can reach between 140 and 185 degrees Fahrenheit, which is an extreme temperature combined with that of most environments in which PCBs are operating. Granted, the temperature inside an inverter won’t be quite as high as that of the surface of a solar panel. Nevertheless, designers will need to plan for high heat when constructing circuit boards for this particular industry.
Designing to Cost
We mentioned above that cost is one of the disadvantages of solar power today. Indeed, it is expensive to build and install solar panels, particularly on a mass scale. This means manufacturers will be looking to save money wherever possible as production needs increase — which in turn means that PCBs will need to be made as affordably as possible.
The good news is that designing PCBs to cost is already a priority in the electronics industry. Designers make an effort to collaborate seamlessly, track any and all helpful data, and ensure their components are up to date — all efforts that keep the process efficient and cost-effective. Even so, costs of advanced PCBs for solar panel construction need to be kept as low as possible in a business that is already challenged by high prices.
Fortifying Supply Chains
While it wasn’t an issue exclusive to printed circuit boards, electronics supply chains suffered something of a crisis in 2020. This was largely due to the pandemic (as well as trade disputes to some extent), but it shed a light on just how vulnerable massive industries can be when they’re not prepared for disruption. Again, this is a broader and more general concern.
Nevertheless, those in charge of manufacturing printed circuit boards for solar power energy would do well to fortify their supply chains and form emergency contingency plans. Significant disruptions in shipping and order fulfillment can be crippling to even the largest solar energy projects. Beyond these factors, we know that individual PCB providers will also face challenges relating to the specific needs of different solar panel designs.
Not all PCBs in this industry will be the same, and many will have to be custom-designed as needs arise. If electronics manufacturers meet the broader challenges outlined above, however, they’ll be helping to clear yet another hurdle for an expanding solar energy sector.