GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan’s Upper Peninsula may not seem like the ideal place for a solar energy hub, but the U.S. Department of Energy has partnered with Michigan Technological University and Sandia National Labs on a new testing facility.

Leaders from the three organizations held a ribbon-cutting ceremony last month on the newest Solar Energy Regional Test Center. The snow and harsh winters, which would seem to make Calumet a poor choice for solar energy, are exactly why the Department of Energy chose the city.

“As Yoopers know, the Upper Peninsula sees a lot of snow in winter and a lot of cold,” Dr. Lauri Burnham told WJMN TV. “It represents an extreme environment for evaluating solar technologies. It’s an extreme environment for snow, but what’s really significant is that snow is a problem for most of the United States. Every single state in the United States has snow at some altitude at some point in time and major blizzards can affect more than 30% of the United States. So, understanding how snow impacts solar performance is not just an Upper Peninsula challenge, it’s really a national challenge.”

Jeff Naber is the director of the Advanced Power Systems Research Center. He said among other things, researchers at the Calumet facility will test different methods on automatic methods for removing snow from the solar panels.

“We would like the panels to not have to be serviced, because they may be on an upper level, or they may be remote. So, it’s best if they can shed the snow themselves,” Naber told WJMN TV. “There are panels that have different configurations, and we are trying to understand under what conditions, what temperatures, what snow loads, they will self-shed. Because if you can self-shed, then it’s a non-maintenance (solar panel). So, it’s really about trying to understand how we can improve technologies for shedding snow loads off of these, that don’t require physical cleaning. If I have to go and do physical cleaning, that’s manpower, and I also have the chance that I could damage the surface of the solar cell.”

The Calumet facility is the fifth outdoor research site for the Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office. The other four are in New Mexico, Florida, Colorado and Nevada.