Sunday, April 14, 2024

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MIT Discovers A Way to Clean Solar Panels Without Using Water

The solar energy industry is booming and is on track to produce 10% of the world’s power by 2030. One problem with solar panels has been keeping the surface clear, but research by MIT may have found a more efficient way to do it.

Traditionally, solar panels can be cleaned with water, and in a residential setting, it’s quite easy to do. However, in the future, a lot of the world’s solar energy will come from desert climates. The solar panels located in these regions will get covered in dust and sand.

This can cause their efficiency to fall by 30%! To avoid this, owners can use water to clean the panels and restore their efficiency. However, when the water is pressurized, it can actually still lower efficiency due to surface-level scratches.

Instead, research at MIT has found a way to use electrostatic repulsion to force dust particles to detach from solar panels without using any water.

Why Is Using Water to clean Solar Panels Bad?

Clean Solar Panels

Normally, using water to clean solar panels is a good thing. These panels are actually waterproof (they have to be due to rain) and it will remove dust and dirt blocking them, but this is for residential panels.

Now consider a giant solar array in the desert. Due to the heavier buildup of dust and sand, these panels get pressurized water as necessary.

While this does clean the panels, it actually causes damage to the surface, albeit minimal. Not only does this hurt the equipment, but it requires a lot of labor to clean large arrays on a weekly or monthly basis.

But that’s honestly only half of the problem.

The real problem is water usage. Currently, solar panels use about 10 billion gallons of water for cleaning each year. That’s enough drinking water for over 2 million people! And in a desert setting, that water is hard to come by.

Obviously, this goes against the sustainable principles that many think of when they picture solar panels. And as more panels existing the world, the water usage will only grow.

So, How Would the Electrostatic Repulsion Work?

In the simplest terms, a solar panel will have a railing on each side of it. An electrode will be present across the panel. A small electric motor, which will use the energy from the panel itself, will move the electrode from one end of the panel to the other.

This will effectively remove any dust build-up while the solar panel is active.

And as you might have realized already, this process can be automated. This would significantly reduce the manpower necessary to maintain a large desert array. Thus reducing the overall cost of the facility while increasing efficiency.

That said, installing this technology will increase the initial price of the project. Unfortunately, the initial price is the biggest hurdle. But when looking at the long term, this technology is a huge benefit.

It’ll be interesting to see where and how the technology changes the industry.

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Robert Giaquinto

Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.

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