Bandit-Based Solar Panel Control
Keywords:Solar Panels, Solar Tracking, Reinforcement Learning, Computational Sustainability, Contextual Bandit
Solar panels sustainably harvest energy from the sun. To improve performance, panels are often equipped with a tracking mechanism that computes the sun’s position in the sky throughout the day. Based on the tracker’s estimate of the sun’s location, a controller orients the panel to minimize the angle of incidence between solar radiant energy and the photovoltaic cells on the surface of the panel, increasing total energy harvested. Prior work has developed efficient tracking algorithms that accurately compute the sun’s location to facilitate solar tracking and control. However, always pointing a panel directly at the sun does not account for diffuse irradiance in the sky, reflected irradiance from the ground and surrounding surfaces, power required to reorient the panel, shading effects from neighboring panels and foliage, or changing weather conditions (such as clouds), all of which are contributing factors to the total energy harvested by a fleet of solar panels. In this work, we show that a bandit-based approach can increase the total energy harvested by solar panels by learning to dynamically account for such other factors. Our contribution is threefold: (1) the development of a test bed based on typical solar and irradiance models for experimenting with solar panel control using a variety of learning methods, (2) simulated validation that bandit algorithms can effectively learn to control solar panels, and (3) the design and construction of an intelligent solar panel prototype that learns to angle itself using bandit algorithms.