60-Second Science

Solar Panels Dust Themselves off

Solar panels that can shake off their dust off via a self-generated electric pulse keep soaking in maximal rays. Cynthia Graber reports

Imagine giant fields filled with photovoltaic solar panels, soaking up rays. The best spots to put such panels are obviously sunny, with little rain. But such places often come with lots of dust. And the panels have to stay dust-free: just a seventh of an ounce of dust per square yard of panel can decrease solar power conversion by 40 percent. And panels in Arizona might get covered with four times that much dust each month.

Cleaning the panels conventionally uses precious water. So researchers are turning to dust-cleaning technology developed for one of the driest, dustiest locations possible: Mars. The work was reported at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society. [Malay Mazumder et al.]

An electrically-sensitive transparent material is deposited on glass or a plastic sheet that covers the panel. Sensors monitor the dust levels. Once the dust reaches a specified level, the system reacts and produces a charge, with electricity generated by the panel.

The charge creates a wave over the material’s surface that physically lifts the dust and tosses it over the edges. The system gets about 90 percent of the dust in a couple of minutes. So the panels can go back to soaking up rays.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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