With a little help from Mars

We’re not talking about about the amount of daily dust our houses accumulate here, but imagine how much dust companies that deploy large-scale solar power installations have to deal with on a daily basis. Whilst we can use a cloth and wipe dust off the bookshelves or windows, how do they get the dust off the surfaces of the solar panels? Windscreen-wipers may sound like an option, but apparently the new found solution doesn’t require much water or mechanical movement.

And yes, it’s a legitimate problem that the solar power industry deals with. It doesn’t take that much dust to have an impact on solar farms. A dust layer of “one-seventh of an ounce” per square yard is enough to decrease output by 40 percent, a huge deal if solar is to be cost competitive. And in the kinds of places where solar farms are built, like the desert, the amount of dust deposited each month on average is 4 times higher than that.

Large-scale solar installations already exist in the United States, Spain, Germany, India, Australia, and the Middle East. 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.

Scientists have now presented the development of one solution – self-dusting solar panels ― based on technology developed for space missions to Mars. In a report at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) on August 22, they described how 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.

The self-cleaning technology involves deposition of a transparent, electrically sensitive material deposited on glass or a transparent plastic sheet covering the panels. Sensors monitor dust levels on the surface of the panel and energise the material when dust concentration reaches a critical level.The electric charge sends a dust-repelling wave cascading over the surface of the material, lifting away the dust and transporting it off of the screen’s edges. The scientists say that within two minutes, the process removes about 90 percent of the dust deposited on a solar panel and requires only a small amount of the electricity generated by the panel for these cleaning operations.

Perhaps this new technology will help us make a step further towards the goal of making solar energy available worldwide.

Source: Science Daily

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