Monday, August 23, 2010

New Technology Makes Solar Panels Automatically Clean Themselves

Automatic cleaning technology, developed for future missions to the Moon and Mars, could be of some use to the solar energy industry here on Earth.

This great innovation was presented by Professor Malay K. Mazumder, of Boston University, with friends from NASA at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

As of today, only 4 percent of the worlds energy production is derived from solar energy. The demand for solar energy has increased by 50 percent from 2003 to 2008 with a continued growth rate of 25 percent each year after that. This means the demand for solar energy is rising and it's rising at a pretty good rate.

The development of this self cleaning technology couldn't have come at a better time, especially for the big solar power plants like the ones in the Mojave Desert. There are nine solar power plant installations in the Mojave Desert, all built back in the 1980s. Currently, they create enough electricity to serve half a million people.

Solar panels that could self clean themselves could increase their efficiency and lower maintenance costs.

Deserts are prime locations for solar power plants and for obvious reasons. However, since the weather is dry, hot and windy; it tends to blow a lot of dust around. That dust fly's through the air and likes to land on top of the precious solar panels, hindering their electricity output. The solar panels are kinda like windows--the more dust gets on them, the less light can come through.

The original technology was intended for future space missions to dry, dusty environments like the Moon and Mars. Since the electricity source for future manned and robotic missions in space will come from solar panels, scientists needed a way for the them to be able to clean themselves. Otherwise, if too much Moon dust or Mars dust gets on them, they could be rendered useless.

How does it work?
To get the dust off, there is a thin sheet of material that goes on top of the panel. Then, electronic sensors that detect dust on the panel will emit electronic charges to repel the dust away. The whole process only takes about 2 minutes and cleans off 90 percent of the dust.

The importance of this technology
“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,” explains Mazumder.

Image Credit: US Air Force.

See Also:
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Water On Moon Could Mean A Moon Base Is On The Horizon
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Are We Living Inside A Black Hole