University of Utah engineers have received an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a monitoring system for solar panels that can automatically locate damaged panels, wiring, or connections in a large solar farm while the panels are live.

Researchers will be using Spread Spectrum Time Domain Reflectometry (SSTDR) for solar panels, a system to test electrical circuits that originally was developed for aircraft and has also been used for undersea cables.

“It is directly analogous to listening to echoes with our ears — you send a series of ‘shouts’ into the array of solar panels and listen to the echoes to learn about how the array is doing,” said University of Utah electrical and computer engineering associate professor Mike Scarpulla (pictured), who is a co-principal investigator on the research. “If something changes in the array, such as one of the solar panels breaks, then the echo will change too.”

Electrical and computer engineering professor Cynthia Furse and assistant professor Joel Harley are also co-principal investigators on the project, which additionally involves Furse’s company, LiveWire Innovation, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.

The grant is part of $46.2 million from the Department of Energy for a group of 48 projects known as the “SunShot Initiative.” The projects are developing solar power technologies in an effort to lower costs and improve reliability and efficiency.

More information about the projects are available here.