Self-Cleaning Solar Panels

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted August 16, 2012

Over at the University of Houston, they’re cleaning up solar panels. Physics professor Seamus Curran, who directs the University’s Institute for NanoEnergy, has created a nanoparticle coating that, when applied to solar panels, keeps them cleaner, thereby extending their efficiency and drastically cutting down on maintenance costs.

The project has successfully been tested at the Dublin Institute for Technology and will be subjected to field tests by an engineering firm in North Carolina, according to Product Design & Development (PDDnet).

C-Voltaics, a startup energy firm, has already licensed the Self-Cleaning Nano Hydrophobic (SCNH107TM) layer. The company will be in charge of marketing the coating as well as a “Storm Cell,” which is a mobile energy generator which uses engineering innovations also thought up by Professor Curran.

As you probably already know, solar panels require a clean surface in order to achieve maximum efficiency in capturing sunlight. But suspended particulate matter tends to play havoc with that. Curran’s innovation repels dust, pollen, and water and thereby maintains an “ideal hydrophobic surface” for a long time.

From PDDnet:

“A dirty solar panel can reduce its power capabilities by up to 30 percent,” Curran said. “The coating essentially makes the panel self-cleaning.”

Curran also points out that the coating can be applied to many other scenarios too, not just solar panels.

As for the Storm Cell, it is quite similar to a diesel generator and is very simply designed. There’s a small square trailer with solar panels on retractable arms and a conversion system. It can produce between 2-5 kilowatts, or enough power to run an air conditioner, some light sources, and a television.

The system is going to be developed and marketed by C-Voltaics and Livingston & Haven, the same company that oversaw a demonstration of Curran’s nano-coating recently.

This isn’t Professor Curran’s first brush with developing solar technologies. He is engaged in research on improving thin-film solar cell efficiency as well as creating plastic systems to utilize solar power.

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