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New self-cleaning solar panel technology could increase power output by over 40 percent.  (Source: U.S. Air Force)
Technology is adapted from NASA technology used on Mars missions

When you think of hot climates, images of deserts often pop into your mind.  Indeed, many of the world's sunniest regions (near the equator) are also home to large deserts.  Those deserts would seem to be an ideal place to deploy solar installations -- they're hit by intense sunlight, they're relatively foliage-free for easy installation, and they don't have high concentrations of wildlife that would be impacted.

Unfortunately, the soil of deserts poses a critical problem.  Sandy dust clings to panels, dramatically reducing their output.

Now a team of researchers led by MIT professor Malay K. Mazumder, Ph.D has come up with a solution -- use automated cleaning technology developed for missions to Mars.

The technology involves first using a transparent, electrically sensitive material deposited on glass or a transparent plastic sheet covering the panels.  Sensors monitor the levels of deposited dust on the panel.  When the dust levels get too high, a charge is applied to the coating and the dust is physically move across the panel via the charge and dumped off the edges.

The procedure uses a minimal amount of energy, making it a viable cleaning solution.  It removes 90 percent of dust, greatly improving power output.  And best of all, the technology has already been stress tested by NASA space probes and rovers under the harsh Martian climate.

Professor Mazumder comments, "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."

United States, Spain, Germany, the Middle East, Australia, and India all are home to large scale solar installations.  Many of these installations are in regions where water is scarce, making water-based cleaning problematic.  Professor Mazumder elaborates, "A dust layer of one-seventh of an ounce per square yard decreases solar power conversion by 40 percent.  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."

The technology already has a huge potential market; the current solar panel industry is a $24B USD market.

And Professor Mazumder hopes that market will only grow larger as more countries embrace solar energy.  He states, "Less than 0.04 percent of global energy production is derived from solar panels, but if only four percent of the world's deserts were dedicated to solar power harvesting, our energy needs could be completely met worldwide. This self-cleaning technology can play an important role."

The new technology may prove the catalyst to help convince nations to go ahead with such installations, as it should help to substantially reduce the per kilowatt-hour cost of solar power.

The new technology was presented by Professor Mazumder and his collaborators from NASA at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).  The ACS is a nonprofit group and the world's largest scientific society.  Chartered by the U.S. Congress, the ACS is responsible for many chemistry peer-reviewed journals and conferences.

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RE: Seriously.
By Solandri on 8/24/2010 4:11:17 AM , Rating: 2
Sure there's tax credits, but so have all other energies, like oil, which get's 10 times the amount of alternative energy! So quit the BS and start realizing that this could be very viable.

I really wish pro-renewable people would quit using that stat. Oil gets 10x the amount of subsidies, but delivers over 30x as much energy. So the subsidy per unit of energy produced is much lower than for renewables. Stating it like you've done as if it's some sort of strike against oil just makes you look silly. Like you're complaining the building next to you is using 10x as much water as you are, while omitting that you live alone while your neighbor is an apartment complex housing 30 people.

There are people busting their butts doing the engineering trying to get these green technologies working. Their PR job is hard enough already with technologies which currently aren't cost-effect compared to traditional energy sources. They don't need a bunch of misleading enviro-wacko stats providing fodder for their opponents.

RE: Seriously.
By Belard on 8/24/2010 5:48:33 AM , Rating: 2
And when the OIL and coal runs out.... then what?

Wind, water and solar power tech is constantly improving.

They have to destroy mountains to get to the coal... thats NOT cheap and its not renewable... well, actually COAL and OIL is renewable, in hundreds of millions of years.

There is pollution created... thats not free.
Hundreds of thousands of acres of land is destroyed.

And as the BP mess has shown... when there is a screw up - its major and takes months to stop it and years to clean it up. And big companies like BP is hiding the oil with dispersant - causing more damage to our food supply. If a Windmill fails and falls over... it only goes splash.

RE: Seriously.
By chick0n on 8/24/2010 10:25:37 AM , Rating: 2
Sorry but me nor you will be able to see the day OIL and Coal runs out. hell, not even our Grand grand children could see it.

Im not against any kind of so called "green" energy. but tree huggers gotta stop thinking its a "once and for all solution"

Do you have any idea how many birds were killed by Wind Turbines every year? and you do that know Wind turbines actually interrupt flow and affect the nature and it also increases deserted-area right ?

and do you know Solar power will actually heat the earth up even more?

BP screw up? I thought that well was run "opened" and run by an American company. Americans love to play the blame game.

Just want to say nothing is perfect.

RE: Seriously.
By spootwo on 8/25/2010 1:56:56 PM , Rating: 2
Seriously! Save all the money you want, but if the power cuts off, or inflation drives the price of energy beyond your means, those that bought solar panels will be the ones laughing.

"It's okay. The scenarios aren't that clear. But it's good looking. [Steve Jobs] does good design, and [the iPad] is absolutely a good example of that." -- Bill Gates on the Apple iPad

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