It is not always possible to prevent dormers, chimneys, or trees from casting their shadows over PV modules. However, to maintain the economic viability of a PV plant, installers and designers must minimize the loss of output due to shade in the planning phase. Influential factors such as the arrangement of the PV modules, their connection, and the right choice of inverter play an important role. These factors can be adapted to the PV plant during the planning phase so that their energy supply can be used most efficiently.
Effects of partial shade on the PV plant
Each PV array has an individual operating point where it can provide the highest electrical power: the Maximum Power Point (MPP). The amount of power depends mainly on the irradiation. If individual PV modules of a string within the PV generator are shaded, its electrical properties change. The PV array will then have several operating points of different operating quality.
Each PV inverter has an MPP tracker. This ensures that the PV system is continuously operated at its optimum operating point. With these controls in place, the PV array can best use the available power at certain levels of solar irradiation. The OptiTrac operation control fulfills this task for SMA inverters, ensuring maximum energy production.
But if, as described above, the shading on individual PV modules within an array creates two different operating points, the inverter must decide at which of these two operating points – the local MPP (LMPP) or the global MPP (GMPP) – it should now operate the PV system.
Since conventional MPP trackers only observe the vicinity of the current operating point, an alternative operating point may not be noticed, which may mean that energy is not unnecessarily lost in the search. The current output of the PV plant may therefore be smaller than it should be because of the shade.
OptiTrac Global Peak behaves quite differently. In order to always find the optimum operating point, even in a partially shaded PV plant, an additional function was added to the standard MPP tracking of the SMA inverters. OptiTrac Global Peak can temporarily operate the PV array at a great distance from the known operating point. With the help of this tool, the inverter always finds the operating point with the highest performance and can use almost the entire energy supply from the PV modules under all conditions . Some losses during the search procedure are unavoidable.
However, OptiTrac Global Peak is specially developed to mitigate those losses in times without shade at a maximum of 0.2 percent when searching for a possible second power maximum. To keep these search losses even lower, it may be useful to adapt and reduce the frequency of searches (cycle time) individually for PV plants with slowly appearing shadows .
Designing partially shaded PV plants
As previously mentioned, output loss due to shade must be minimized in the planning phase. Regardless of technology used, heavily shaded areas will decrease the economic viability of a PV system and should be avoided, as the end goal of a system should always be to optimize cost with performance. To assist the system designer, we have presented the most important planning rules below.
Selection of roof area
Minimizing energy losses in partially shaded module strings is based on setting the inverter to electrically bypass shaded solar cells for optimal use of the unshaded PV modules on the same series-connected string. The power of the shaded solar cells, which is diminished anyway, cannot be used at this time. When selecting the roof area for a PV plant, designers should make sure that permanent shadows do not fall on the PV array. During times of high irradiation (noon, summer months), no shadows should fall on it at all, if possible. Special simulation programs can be used to easily estimate the properties of the shadows, such as their size and how they change over the course of a year.
Selecting the system connection
The connection of the PV array significantly influences the obtainable energy production. To address this, SMA Solar Technology AG has prepared and published the rules of “Shadow Management” . The analysis of the course of shadows is always carried out at the beginning of a system design. The proportion of the shaded PV modules in relation to the array and the course of shadows over time are important characteristics of a PV plant with partial shading. The following recommended actions are important when dealing with partially shaded PV plants:
> When a single PV module or a small number of the PV modules (e.g. < 10 % of the total number) is shaded, the shadow can be distributed evenly on the strings. Since the MPP voltage is always near the nominal MPP voltage in these cases, a special operation control (OptiTrac Global Peak) is not necessary.
> If shading is severe, it makes sense to operate the shaded and unshaded PV modules separately. Take note:
- Group together array parts with similar irradiation.
- No parallel connection of strings with different irradiation; rather, provide a separate MPP
tracker for each string. Multiple small inverters or devices with multistring technology can be
used for this application.
- OptiTrac Global Peak is necessary to maximize the energy production.
Even with the slight shading described above, the concentration of the shaded PV modules on its own MPP tracker represents an alternative to evenly distributing the shadow over all strings. Even this system design requires OptiTrac Global Peak to minimize production losses.
OptiTrac Global Peak
Many SMA inverters are equipped with OptiTrac Global Peak. OptiTrac Global Peak is an additional function of the standard MPP tracking OptiTrac and is deactivated by default. Please visit our website for more information.
 J. Iken: “Leistungsgipfel mit Geheimnissen” (Performance peak with secrets); Sonne Wind & Wärme, 17/2009, p. 160 (only available in German)
 SMA Solar Technology AG: “SUNNY BOY 3000TL / 4000TL / 5000TL - Parameters and measured values”, www.SMA.de/en
 G. Bettenwort, J. Laschinski: “Schattenmanagement – Der richtige Umgang mit teilverschatteten PVGeneratoren” (Shadow management – The
correct handling of partially shaded PV generators); 23. Symposium Photovoltaische Solarenergie, 2008, Bad Staffelstein, Germany (only available
 SMA Solar Technology AG: Technical description “OptiTrac Global Peak - SUNNY BOY 3000TL / 4000TL / 5000TL”, www.SMA.de/en