Will tomorrow’s solar panels be self-cleaning?

The build-up of dirt can affect the performance of the solar panels. — AFP Relaxnews

Researchers in Germany have created a coating that, when applied to solar panels, could help them keep clean in a completely autonomous way. This would help eliminate dirt from the solar panels that could affect their performance.

The Fraunhofer FEP institute in Germany has developed a means of making glass facades, as well as solar panels, self-cleaning. This new technology is based on the ability of materials to attract or repel water. In this case, the researchers applied crystalline titanium oxide to ultra-thin glass.

The properties of titanium dioxide mean that it changes whether it attracts or repels water depending on whether it is exposed to sunlight or not. As such, during the day, it attracts water, keeping the entire surface moist and preventing dirt from settling. At night, it repels water, producing drops of water that roll off, taking foreign bodies like dirt with them.

In practice, this means that almost no dirt can build up on this type of coating over a long period. According to the researchers involved in the project, this solution also eliminates all traces of bacteria from these surfaces.

A first roll of glass, 100 micrometers thick, 30 cm wide and 20 m long, has been produced by the researchers. The challenge now is to make it strong enough to withstand the test of time while also proving cost-effective, bearing in mind that the goal is then to be able to apply this composite material to solar panels, including on curved surfaces.

As interest in photovoltaics grows, this type of innovation could contribute to furthering the uptake of solar panels, even if it is still currently at an experimental stage. – AFP Relaxnews

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