Martian Housecleaning Hits Home With Automatic Solar Panel Cleaning
Boston University deploys plans to create self-cleaning solar panels to boost energy output. Shine on, scholars!
At the 240th annual meeting of the American Chemical Society - who knew there was that much chemistry around, anyway - the team described their plan and its potential applications on a world scale.Right now, only 0.04 percent of the world's power is generated via solar means. This is partly because the energy efficiency of solar panels is quite low, and partly because, despite its "new-aginess", solar panels have never captured the hearts and minds of the world population as a viable energy source. There's just something about a giant power plant, pumping out pollution, that we humans find ever so satisfying.
Nonetheless, Dr. Malay Mazumder and his team are determined to not only improve the efficiency of solar panels, but sell the world on their benefits. According to the good doctor, if even 4% of the world's deserts were converted into solar power collection stations, power needs for the entire globe could be met. We can only imagine the "sharing" and "cooperation" that would happen should the world's power supply suddenly be dependant on fragile absorption devices in the middle of the Sahara.
Oh human nature, you old scamp.
But before such a Utopian (cough) future can come to pass, there is the little problem of making these panels more efficient. While their have been a number of studies into making the panels themselves absorb more energy and do it quickly, there is one problem which remains largely unaddressed.
Someone has to clean the damn things.
Mazumder told those at the ACS meeting that even a dust layer of one-seventh of an ounce per square yard lowers the energy conversion rate by 40%, and in places like Australia, up to four times that amount per month can be deposited on solar panels. Sure, it's easy enough to take a feather duster to your TV, but how often do you really do it? And more importantly, would you want to do it thousands of times a month?
Boston U has come up with a potential solution, drawn from technology used by NASA on Mars. A transparent sheet with an electrically sensitive coating is placed over the panels, with sensors attached to monitor dust levels. When they reach a pre-defined point, the sheet is energized, and a dust-repelling wave is created, carrying the offending particles out and over the edges of the panel.
Mazumder's hope is that by increasing not only the basic energy conversion of panels, but also their long-term performance power, the world will finally begin to come around to this crazy idea of using a renewable resource.
Though there's no guarantee, the forecast for this one looks sunny.