Don’t Place Crops on Photovoltaic Modules – Education Should Come First Especially in Rural Regions

Peasants Dry Crops on the Photovoltaic Modules
Peasants Dry Crops on the Photovoltaic Modules in the Hot Sun

In recent years, the China government has launched lots of support of policies and considerable subsidies to popularize photovoltaic power generation in rural regions. As a means of expanding the total capacity of solar power in the country, alleviating the power poverty problem in these regions and increasing peasants’ income by allowing them to selling the excess electricity to the grid at a good price, this policy route has resulted in masses of photovoltaic systems installed on the roofs of peasants’ houses or within their yards. It seems very exciting to see the “blooming” of solar power in these people’s daily life, but…

One day, when some politicians and solar energy industry practitioners had a visit to get to know the development process of photovoltaic power in these regions, they were shocked to see that peasants treated the orderly photovoltaic modules as a piece of flat ground to dry sweet potatoes, radishes and peppers in the hot sun. It would become a delightful harvest scene in other places, NOT here. Instead, it was simply a joke and turned out to be a risky demonstration.

Peppers were placed on photovoltaic panels
Peppers were placed on photovoltaic panels in one rural region of China

Over these years, the rural regions in China have turned into the main “battlefield” of distributed photovoltaic power generation, with abundant resources (large pieces of land available). Peasants can apply for considerable subsidies to construct photovoltaic systems in their houses. Photovoltaic industry is being integrated with traditional farming to form several creative types of the implement of photovoltaic power generation in the countryside. Nowadays, peasants can gain daily power for living and production and earn extra income by building photovoltaic systems on their greenhouse roofs, fishing ponds, farmland and so on.

SEE ALSO:   When the Photovoltaics Industry is Integrated With Your Fish Pond

Why the “joke” happens

It can definitely be a good thing because more and more people are embracing renewable energy. But this kind of embrace is NOT as simple as installing the devices. Actually, a vast majority of the owners of these photovoltaic systems are the elderly, whose children are working in the urban areas. It is obvious that most of the elderly lack systematic knowledge of photovoltaic operation, also knowledge of some common sense and precautions. When the children regard these photovoltaic systems as a guarantee of stable profits for their “left-behind” parents, and when the government regards these as an accurate poverty alleviation project for the poor households, these systems have yet to performance well as expected – because of the lack of operation and maintenance knowledge.

Peasants lack scientific knowledge of photovoltaic maintenance
Peasants in rural regions lack scientific knowledge of photovoltaic maintenance

Back to the practice of drying stuff on the photovoltaic modules, in fact, it is an unintentional move. Drying grain, peppers or radishes is the main function of roofs for many peasants, which has already been imprinted in their minds. But in the view of the operation and profit of the photovoltaic systems, this kind of practice is definitely wrong.

We know that a whole suit of photovoltaic power system can consist of photovoltaic modules, photovoltaic holders, inverters, combiner boxes, etc. The photovoltaic modules can directly capture the sunlight and convert it into electricity with the optical principles. Then the invertors help transform the DC into AC for home use. So when the photovoltaic modules are covered with shade, fallen leaves, bird droppings and crops, it will cause reduction in the radiation area of the surfaces that available for capturing, as well as lower the intensity of the sunlight that projects onto the surfaces. To make it clearer, these coverings will directly lower the output currents of the modules, then eventually peasants’ income from these modules.

People in the rural regions install photovoltaic systems with the practical purpose to save power cost and obtain extra income in the meanwhile. Nobody is willing to witness the frustrating thing that these systems, given high expectations, evolve into decorations – generating little power and income.

A brief introduction of the “hot spot” effect

The hot spot effect happens when photovoltaic modules are covered by opaque stuff
The hot spot effect happens when photovoltaic modules are covered by opaque stuff

The negative impact of the risky demonstration we mentioned above can reflect in the “hot spot” effect. In a series circuit, for some unpleasant reasons, the working state of photovoltaic modules would show inconsistencies. Specifically speaking, these reasons include shade appearing on the surfaces of photovoltaic modules on account of the coverings of fallen leaves or bird droppings. According to the basic working principle of photovoltaic modules, the parts with shade on the surfaces are not able to function normally, and more seriously, will be treated as a load to consume the power generated by other uncovered modules and produce heat and form hot spots simultaneously. And the appearance of the hot spots can even make the modules get burned as well as cause casualties.

Therefore, these fundamental mistakes should not happen; otherwise, the “danger” or “tragedy” behind the joke would become reality.

What this “joke” tells us and how to deal with it

We want to emphasize again that – to truly popularize solar power and its corresponding lifestyle is NOT as simple as asking people to install solar power systems on their roofs. People should firstly have some their minds and knowledge transformed and updated. A solar power system is NOT just for saving electricity cost and making extra money. On the contrary, the decision to have a solar system in our houses indicates the sincerity to embrace CLEAN/RENEWABLE energy, fulfill our duty to deal with the climate change and promote the sustainable development of our community.

So this requires the government to realize the concept of

“education comes FIRST than installation”

And the education ought to include some essential aspects like: the relationship between the solar systems and the sustainability of their living, the working mechanism of the systems and the regular maintenance of the systems. Both the government and the solar industry practitioners, including contractors, installers and service staff should, prior to their “students”, receive a comprehensive and scientific education and promise to always keep up with industry updates.

In fact, it’s not entirely the fault of these peasants to run the “joke” and it’s not right to make unkind laughs. This is because, for various reasons, they cannot receive decent education – the situation that they cannot easily reverse by their own endeavor. We believe, with good education, peasants in the rural regions worldwide can benefit a lot from the photovoltaic systems.

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Steven Kwok
Steven is based in China – a researcher, reporter and marketer whose work spans the fields of energy, sociology, marketing and economy. Passionate about life and nice stuff on the earth, like renewables and natural scenery. Has a master’s degree in Brand Communication and endeavors to integrate the force of sustainable development enthusiasts to popularize solar energy and solar lifestyle.