News | Sep 10, 2018

Navy invents low-cost sensor for mobile solar-energy research

Patent licenses are available to businesses who will use the prototyped technology to make new products or services

The Ground Renewable Expeditionary Electronics Network System (GREENS) is shown in use during the 2016 Energy Capability Exercise at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California.

Levi Schultz/USMC

A team of scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory has developed a special sensor for analysis of solar cell performance in the field.

The device, called a spectral radiometer, was built to monitor the performance of backpack-mounted solar panels but could be used independently or with other systems. The inventors used diodes, a coin cell battery, processor, and memory, all fitted into a plastic box just two inches long. The parts cost less than $20.

“A challenge to the research of long-term expeditionary devices was we had no information regarding when, and how long, mobile solar power units were in the sun,” said Dr. Raymond Hoheisel, a scientist in the Solid State Devices Section who helped invent the device.

“These units have a dynamic range of 0.01 – 2 suns measured in 30-second intervals, a data capacity of 128 megabytes, an average power consumption of 100 microwatts, and an independent real-time clock,” he said.

Having received a patent on the technology in April, the Navy is prepared to transfer the technical know-how and commercial rights to qualified businesses who will use it in products for civilian or military customers.

TechLink, the Department of Defense’s national partnership intermediary for technology transfer, is assisting businesses with patent license applications, including the development of required commercialization plans.

Current spectral radiometers generally require complex optical and electronic equipment for a signal readout, said Dr. Austin Leach, senior technology manager at TechLink.

“But the Navy’s spectrometer is small and simple, has a long battery life, and is totally autonomous, producing the data needed for reviews and forecasts,” Leach said. “It’s perfect for businesses or R&D companies putting wearable or mobile solar energy systems through field trials or studying solar energy availability in remote locations.”

Businesses and entrepreneurs interested in the technology can contact Leach at for more information on prototypes and the licensing process.

Headshot Image of Austin Leach, PhD, CLP

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