Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Science


Civil and Environmental Engineering


Horia Hangan, Girma Bitsuamlak


Wind load governs the design of supporting structures of solar panels and constitutes approximately fifty percent of the total cost. There are various test scale related issues while testing solar panels (small structures) in boundary layer wind tunnel laboratories meant for tall buildings (large structures). Emergence of large testing facilities, however, is enabling testing full-scale solar panels. In this thesis an extensive experimental program is conducted at WindEEE Dome using full-scale solar panels and finite element modeling. The experimental program includes: (i) high resolution pressure tests to understand the sensitivity of pressure taps density and distribution; (ii) force balance test to determine the reactions of the solar panel under wind loading accounting for aeroelastic effects and validate pressure test results; (iii) finite element modeling to assess the internal stress of the solar rack elements and improvement of the rack cross section.

Study of pressure tap layout and resolution illustrated that a fairly high density resolution is required to capture all the aerodynamic features of pressure on the solar panel surfaces. It is found that the uplift force obtained from the force balance tests are larger compared to the pressure taps as result of the dynamic effects of wind loading. The finite element analysis of solar racks was performed using the experimentally established wind loading data, which includes all dynamic features of the forces obtained from the force balances. It is concluded that the solar rack cross sections can be structurally optimized and there is a possibility to save in aluminum elements up to 40%.