Photo of the exterior of Hodgin Hall looking West

Sunshine On A Cloudy Day

Photovoltaic panels are a tried-and-true way of harnessing the sun’s power and converting it to electricity ­— except when the clouds roll in. In UNM’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Ph.D. candidate Guillermo Terrén-Serrano and Professor Manel Martínez-Ramón have developed an artificial intelligence algorithm that optimizes the performance of solar power by predicting cloud cover.           

Reducing the randomness of solar energy generation requires knowing when solar radiation availability is going to decrease due to cloud cover. Terrén-Serrano and Martínez-Ramón’s artificial intelligence algorithm learns about cloud patterns and predicts, based on recent cloud movement, the future output of a solar panel. 

The algorithm was trained using cameras and a solar radiation sensor installed on campus at UNM. The camera system was designed by Terrén-Serrano and Martínez-Ramón to follow the sun throughout the day, collecting data on both cloud cover and solar radiation at the same time. The apparatus collects one visual image every 15 seconds and one solar radiation sample every third of a second. 

The researchers plan to launch a website later this year that will allow anyone to see the data from their cameras in real-time. 

“The problem with solar energy is that it is of stochastic nature: it has a random component due to the presence of clouds,” Martínez-Ramón explains. “So, what we want to do is to reduce this randomness and when we know that we’re not going to have enough solar power then we will be prepared to supply this energy with other sources.”

Photo of an array of solar panels facing the sun

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