Dust be Gone: Self-Cleaning Solar Panels

Solar panels work via the photoelectric effect - using light to free electrons from a solid surface (e.g. metal) to create power. This effect was observed, and the first solar powered cell was built in 1883, more than 130 years ago! The efficiency of that cell was 1-2%, comparing to modern technology which achieves on average of 15-20%. One solar panel (65” x 39”) produces 265 watts, enough to power 4.25 60-watt light bulbs. On average 30 solar panels can help reduce the energy bill by $1,198 a year. These numbers assume good sunlight access and clean solar panels. Accumulating dirt on solar panels can reduce the efficiency of the panels by 40%! To put it into monetary equivalence, the $1,198 saved in a year can easily turn to $479.20 by having dirty panels. Thankfully, technology is ever evolving to help renewable energy be the best it can be. Scientists have been hard at work to design a process through which solar panels will be self cleaning. An approach which is yet to be commercialized uses a clear coating of dust-monitoring sensors. When too much dust has accumulated on the panel, the sensors send an electric charge through the coating to knock off the collected dust. Minimal energy is used and 90% of the dust can be eliminated in 2 minutes, saving on manual labor and time needed to clean a panel. A fascinating thought is that the same technology was used by NASA for the solar panels attached to the Mars rovers. Time to bring this cleaning coat home, and generate some light about the growing improvements of renewable energy.