Thermal and mechanical interactions between utility scale PV plants and the atmospheric surface layer


  • Daniel Cannon


Do large-scale PV plants change the near-ground temperature and the mechanics of the surface layer? The literature is divided on this topic, with some studies claiming that photovoltaic power plants adversely affect the local environment, and some argue otherwise. Arguments have been made that PV plants decrease near-surface temperatures. One such argument states that solar panels convert solar power into electrical power, which is then transmitted away from the environment, thereby removing energy. Another supporting argument suggests that solar panels block the ground's direct view of the sun, decreasing the amount of solar radiation absorbed by the earth during the day and lowering ground temperatures. Others conclude that near-surface temperatures would increase in the presence of a PV plant. For instance, one study found that nighttime ground temperatures were on average 4⁰C larger at a PV plant than two nearby urban and desert environments. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) can offer a better understanding of this problem. I am using CFD to develop a deeper understanding of PV plants' impact on heat and temperature fluxes, atmospheric structure and stability, and wind profiles. My research considers variations in PV plant sizes, tilts, and arrangements. I also investigate changes in the background canopies on which the PV plants are built. My research includes limited field data measurements, required to feed the thermal boundary conditions of my simulations to implement realistic time-dependent boundary conditions. With good field and CFD data, one can produce accurate models to understand interactions between PV plants and their surroundings.