Air Pollution May Make Solar Panels Less Efficient

Jun 30, 2017

By Jasmin Malik Chua

From inefficient grids, shortfalls in policy, and even the occasional eclipse, solar-energy collection faces no shortage of hurdles. Scientists have discovered another stumbling block: air pollution.

Published last week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, the study revealed that the regions most susceptible to this challenge also have the heaviest solar investments. These regions include China, India and the Arabian Peninsula.

“My colleagues in India were showing off some of their rooftop solar installations, and I was blown away by how dirty the panels were,” Michael Bergin, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke University and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “I thought the dirt had to affect their efficiencies, but there weren’t any studies out there estimating the losses. So we put together a comprehensive model to do just that.”

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One comment on “Air Pollution May Make Solar Panels Less Efficient”

  • It seems that high tech solutions are already being developed!

    “A dust layer of one-seventh of an ounce per square yard decreases solar power conversion by 40 percent,” Mazumder explains. “In Arizona, dust is deposited each month at about 4 times that amount. Deposition rates are even higher in the Middle East, Australia, and India.”

    Working with NASA, Mazumder and colleagues initially developed the self-cleaning solar panel technology for use in lunar and Mars missions. “Mars of course is a dusty and dry environment,” Mazumder said, “and solar panels powering rovers and future manned and robotic missions must not succumb to dust deposition. But neither should the solar panels here on Earth.”

    The self-cleaning technology involves deposition of a transparent, electrically sensitive material deposited on glass or a transparent plastic sheet covering the panels.
    Sensors monitor dust levels on the surface of the panel and energize the material when dust concentration reaches a critical level.
    The electric charge sends a dust-repelling wave cascading over the surface of the material, lifting away the dust and transporting it off of the screen’s edges.

    Mazumder said that within two minutes, the process removes about 90 percent of the dust deposited on a solar panel and requires only a small amount of the electricity generated by the panel for cleaning operation.

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