How to clean solar panels without water

Dust that accumulates on solar panels is a major problem, but washing the panels uses huge amounts of water. MIT engineers have now developed a waterless cleaning method to remove dust on solar installations in water-limited regions, improving overall efficiency.
Image: Courtesy of the researchers via MIT.
Dust that accumulates on solar panels is a major problem, but washing the panels uses huge amounts of water. MIT engineers have now developed a waterless cleaning method to remove dust on solar installations in water-limited regions, improving overall efficiency.
Credits: Image: Courtesy of the researchers via MIT

Read the full story from MIT.

Solar power is expected to reach 10 percent of global power generation by the year 2030, and much of that is likely to be located in desert areas, where sunlight is abundant. But the accumulation of dust on solar panels or mirrors is already a significant issue — it can reduce the output of photovoltaic panels by as much as 30 percent in just one month — so regular cleaning is essential for such installations.

But cleaning solar panels currently is estimated to use about 10 billion gallons of water per year — enough to supply drinking water for up to 2 million people. Attempts at waterless cleaning are labor intensive and tend to cause irreversible scratching of the surfaces, which also reduces efficiency. Now, a team of researchers at MIT has devised a way of automatically cleaning solar panels, or the mirrors of solar thermal plants, in a waterless, no-contact system that could significantly reduce the dust problem, they say.

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