News Stories

Unique Cleaning Problem

Huge solar panels get DUSTY! - Imagine having to dust objects the size of 25 to 50 football fields. That's the problem facing companies that deploy large-scale solar power installations, which is why scientists have come up with the solution: self-dusting solar panels. Hey, somebody seems to have done it on Mars!

The need for that technology is growing with the popularity of solar energy. Use of solar, or photovoltaic, panels increased by 50 percent from 2003 to 2008, and forecasts suggest a growth rate of at least 25% annually into the future.

A self-cleaning coating on the surface of solar cells could increase the efficiency of producing electricity from sunlight and reduce maintenance costs for large-scale solar installations. Researcher Malay K. Mazumder says, "We think our self-cleaning panels used in areas of high dust and particulate pollutant concentrations will highly benefit the systems' solar energy output. Our technology can be used in both small- and large-scale photovoltaic systems. To our knowledge, this is the only technology for automatic dust cleaning that doesn't require water or mechanical movement."

Large-scale solar installations already exist in the United States, Spain, Germany, the Middle East, Australia, and India. These installations usually are located in sun-drenched desert areas where dry weather and winds sweep dust into the air and deposit it onto the surface of solar panel. Just like grime on a household window, that dust reduces the amount of light that can enter the business part of the solar panel, decreasing the amount of electricity produced. Clean water tends to be scarce in these areas, making it expensive to clean the solar panels.

"A dust layer of one-seventh of an ounce per square yard decreases solar power conversion by 40%," Mazumder explains. "In Arizona, dust is deposited each month at about 4 times that amount. Deposition rates are even higher in the Middle East, Australia, and India."

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Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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