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Researchers create self-cleaning system for solar panels

Solar panels washing before & after

As the price of solar panels continue to fall, more folks are embracing this renewable energy source. But those who jumped onboard a few years ago have learned that, over time, dirt, pollution and bird droppings can reduce the effectiveness of their solar panels as much as 35 percent! What to do?

Recently a research team and some students from the University of Washington’s Department of Electrical Engineering invented an innovative process called Aquapel. Not to be confused with the auto glass windshield cleaner of the same name, this new system uses a combination of small vibrations to direct water droplets through the groves on the panels in a set pattern. They collect particles and contaminants and clean the entire panel. Watching the video, it reminds me of the old PacMan.game.

Aquapel demo

The droplets can move side to side or up and down as needed. The coating used is both oil and water-repellent. The research team, which recently won the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge, a University of Washington student start-up competition, believes that if scaled for a large system of say a 100 mw solar farm, this innovative system could save as much as $58 million and 420 million liters of water that would normally be used for cleaning panels throughout the array’s lifetime. Tantalizing to think about.

Debra Atlas is a freelance environmental writer and eco-enthusiast based in Northern California, and is the Red Ferret’s Ecological Editor. Debra looks for the upside of eco-change – what’s positive, making a difference. She hunts down those interesting things cooked up by creative minds, especially if they’re strange and eccentric.

Debra Atlas – who has written posts on The Red Ferret Journal.


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