Principal Investigator – Alexander Orlow (right)
Entrepreneurial Lead – Shrish Patel (center)
Mentor – JP Lawrence (left)
The United States has 47.1 GW of total installed capacity of solar photovoltaics, which is expected to nearly triple over the next five years. Dust deposition to solar panels can reduce their output by more than 10%, with differential soiling further decreasing it by 25%. There have been no easy solutions to this problem to date. The standard approach is to mechanically clean solar panels, which always uses both water and manual labor. Emerging approaches include the application of either hydrophobic or hydrophilic coating to glass surfaces, as well as using robots to automate manual cleaning. Almost 60 interviews with solar industry leaders confirmed that all these methods incur high costs, while often being time and labor intensive. Mechanical cleaning can damage glass surfaces while requiring vast amounts of potable water: a scarce commodity in desert regions. To address the aforementioned limitations of solar panel cleaning, we developed a self-cleaning technology, which utilizes the next generation of Electro-Dynamic Shield (EDS) to remove dust particle from the panels. When a voltage is applied to the electrode, a strong electric field charges the dust particle and repels it away from the panels. Our solution, which was inspired by NASA space exploration research, has overcome several technical hurdles for making it practical in the terrestrial environment. It involves transparent electrodes that are embedded in solar panel glass, while being water–free and fully automatic. By the end of the project, we expect to upgrade the technology readiness level from TRL 3-4 to TRL 6.