Barriers and Variable Spacing Enhance Convective Cooling and Increase Power Output in Solar PV Plants: Article No. 013501

Brooke Stanislawski, Todd Harman, Raul Cal, Marc Calaf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When the temperature of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules rises, efficiency drops and module degradation accelerates. Thus, it is beneficial to reduce module operating temperatures. Previous studies of solar power plants have illustrated that incoming flow characteristics, turbulent mixing, and array geometry can strongly impact convective cooling, as measured by the convective heat transfer coefficient h. In the fields of heat transfer and plant canopy flow, previous work has shown that system-scale arrangement modifications - e.g., variable spacing, barriers, or windbreaks - can passively alter the flow, enhance turbulent mixing, and influence convection. However, researchers have not yet explored how variable spacing or barriers might enhance convective cooling in solar power plants. Here, high-resolution large-eddy simulations model the air flow and heat transfer through solar power plant arrangements modified with missing modules and barrier walls. We then perform a control volume analysis to evaluate the net heat flux and compute h, which quantifies the influence of these spatial modifications on convective cooling and, thus, module temperature and power output. Installing barrier walls yields the greatest improvements, increasing h by 3.4%, reducing module temperature by an estimated 2.5?degrees C, and boosting power output by an estimated 1.4% on average. These findings indicate that incorporating variable spacing or barrier-type elements into PV plant designs can reduce module temperature and, thus, improve PV performance and service life.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2024

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5000-87416


  • aerodynamics
  • atmospheric dynamics
  • computational fluid dynamics
  • convective heat transfer
  • photovoltaics
  • thermal effects
  • turbulent flows


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