A research laboratory and innovation centre, the Enel Innovation Hub in Catania also includes an innovation incubator and laboratories focused on renewable energies. The Hub is located, in fact, on the site where Enel carries out experiments with the technology to increase the efficiency and affordability of solar and storage plants. Around one thousand metres square of buildings are available for research in addition to a further 30 thousand metres for outdoor tests, a space that we make available to Startups and SMEs for the development of their own solutions in collaboration with Enel.
In greater detail, the main labs and assets within the site are as follows:
PV Indoor LAB
This laboratory enables accelerated ageing tests to be conducted in order to verify the reliability and "infant" mortality of photovoltaic modules. The equipment used can be divided into two main categories: the machinery that generates thermomechanical and environmental stress, and the collection of measuring devices used to carry out the initial verification as well as subsequent intermediate verifications. The test equipment is used to expose the panels to extreme conditions for the purpose of simulating the worst environmental conditions that the modules might be subjected to: thermal cycles ranging from -40°C to 85°C with high humidity. UV chambers to enable prolonged exposure. Mechanical loading systems to verify the robustness of the panels and supporting structures. The laboratory is capable of performing almost the entire testing sequence required by IEC standards. The missing tests are due to be incorporated in the near future to complete the testing sequence.
This laboratory has a system capable of measuring, to a high degree of accuracy, the power generated by a photovoltaic module under controlled conditions at STC (1000W per square meter and 25°C), at different irradiance levels and is also able to measure a module's spectral response. These capabilities make it possible to verify the power output declared by the manufacturer and to identify and measure any reduction in power produced by the modules due to accelerated ageing processes and exposure to the elements.
Electrical testing laboratory
Tests are carried out in this laboratory to measure the insulation properties of photovoltaic panels in both dry and wet conditions, in accordance with current safety regulations.
This meteo-radiometric station is composed of precision devices that enable the continuous and accurate monitoring of the main climatic variables as well as the local solar irradiance in order to establish a benchmark against which the performance of the photovoltaic technologies tested on site can be compared. These devices principally include: a high-precision biaxial tracker with pyreliometer and pyranometers for measuring the components of solar radiation (global, direct, normal direct and horizontal diffuse solar irradiance), UV A and UV B radiometers, and instruments for measuring pressure, humidity, temperature, wind speed and wind direction.
Electro-optical characterization laboratory
This laboratory is equipped with various types of testing facilities that enable the identification of defects that are both visible, but especially invisible, to the naked eye. It contains a visual inspection test bench, an electroluminescence (EL) device, and a thermography system. The electroluminescence (EL) device makes it possible to identify specific defects in solar panels, for example damaged areas within the cells that appear as dark zones. As a complement to this, the thermography system identifies areas where overheating is occurring. Together, these two approaches cover the entire range of potential electrical discontinuity issues that might exist with the internal components. On the other hand, the visual inspection identifies any obviously visible defects as well as those of an aesthetic/functional nature (excluding manufacturing defects that render the panel unusable).
PV Outdoor LAB
The outdoor testing platform is used to check and compare PV technologies in real-world conditions. Panels from various manufacturers are tested, as are support systems such as trackers and fixed structures. In addition, the facilities are also used to test innovative solar technology solutions, such as robots for sustainable waterless cleaning of photovoltaic systems, automated photovoltaic monitoring systems, and ground coverings designed to improve system performance.
The lab also possesses a large pool which is used to test cutting-edge technologies, such as testing floating photovoltaic systems for their reliability and durability.
With its generation and load profile emulation systems, this Enel X laboratory is dedicated to evaluating energy storage technologies and to testing the aggregation of distributed generation as well as on-grid/off-grid micronetworks/microgrids.
The laboratory is currently being used to perform tests on storage systems integrated into low and medium voltage networks (and more generally into smart-grids), such as load modulation, optimization of energy/power flows of residential/industrial customers, provision of ancillary services, and participation in ancillary services to support grid stability, including through the aggregation of distributed generation with integrated storage systems.
The data generated by the tests conducted in the laboratory are also used to support specific partnerships with universities and Italian and foreign research organizations with which Enel X cooperates on a variety of different initiatives this.