Manual cleaning of solar panels. Image: Panumas Yanuthai Shutterstock

A new European research project has developed a self-cleaning photovoltaic coating technology capable of improving the efficiency of solar modules by 4%. Cleaning the solar panels is done in this simple and inexpensive way.

Air pollution exerts a strong pressure on photovoltaics. According to recent research, the accumulation of particles on the surface of solar cells can seriously contribute to the reduction of energy production in percentages even greater than 25%, resulting in a great loss of efficiency. However, keeping solar panels clean is a challenge: regular cleaning and maintenance is very expensive and a lot of water is wasted. Here you can see an example.

Manual cleaning of photovoltaic solar panels. Image: Panumas Yanuthai Shutterstock

A team of international researchers is working on the development of a solution through the SolaSharc project. The initiative, funded by the European Union through Horizon 2020, has developed a photovoltaic coating that can easily remove dirt, while improving the energy efficiency and aesthetic quality of the modules.

The roof element takes its name from the project itself and is an organic-inorganic hybrid element only a few microns thick. Based on a network of multifunctional silica nanoparticles, Solar Sharc® is stable even at temperatures above 100 ° C and highly repellent to water and solid contaminants (such as dust, particles or sand), without loss resistance.

Self-cleaning surfaces – the researchers explain – tend to be fragile, prone to erosion and poorly weather resistant. The next step for Solar Sharc® is to identify the hydrophobic functional groups as well as the active functional groups on the nanostructured particles. […] creating a tough, durable and transparent coating.

In addition, Solar Sharc®’s anti-reflective properties improve transmittance, so that over 93% of all available light can reach the semiconductor.

The markets towards which the project is oriented are on an industrial scale and photovoltaic integrated in buildings. The partners plan to bring the cladding and the new self-cleaning PV modules to market in 2019.

The Spanish company Solar Onyx, the Finnish Millidyne Oy, Opus Materials Technologies of the United Kingdom and the French Commission for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies are participating in the project.