“You’re never going to be able to stop the sun from shining. With the ongoing volatility of oil [...]and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is imperative that we utilize as much solar energy as possible and do it very efficiently. Since the deposition of dust on solar panels prevents light from entering the cell, our research aims to make the panels self-cleaning to prevent dust accumulation and loss of power.
The most effective place for a large-scale solar farm is the desert, but sandstorms sometimes blanket the panels with dust and debris, which can significantly degrade operations. These installations can span as much as a quarter mile, and the cost of manually cleaning panel surfaces with water is very high.
Our lower-cost technology uses a set of transparent electrodes placed on the panel’s surface. Driven by phased voltage pulses, the electrodes remove dust through electrodynamic force. Only a small fraction of solar panel power output is used to drive the electrodes for cleaning, a process that can be completed in less than two minutes. An off-site control board determines when panels needs to be cleaned—either at a set time each day, or programmed for when panel efficiency drops off due to dust deposition.
I got involved in this research while doing undergraduate research in transparent electrodynamic screens and the development of an analyzer for characterizing fine particles at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock with Malay Mazumder — who is now a research professor in the ECE Department. He’s one of the main reasons I came here, along with the resources at the Photonics Center.
We are now working towards the commercialization of the self-cleaning technology within a year. Our group is improving the pulsed voltage drive system with transparent electrodes and developing efficient and robust transparent electrodynamic screens. We’re making good progress, and hopefully our research will make solar panels efficient and cost-effective.”
- Jeremy Stark, as told to Jason L. London