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Article posted on 08/24/10
Author: Cheryl Bitner

New Solar Panel Cleaning Technology Introduced

Although deserts have an ideal setting to utilize solar energy (lots of sun and lack of foliage), they are often subjected to harsh conditions and exposed to a constant barrage of dust and sand, which sticks to the panels and reduces their energy output. Now, a team of MIT scientists have come up with an ingenious solution to the problem: automated cleaning technology developed for Mars missions adapted for use on panels here on Earth.

The innovation entails placing a thin sheet of electronically sensitive material over solar panels. Sensors in the material monitor the dust as it builds up and, when it gets too high, the dust is moved across the panel and removed by an electric charge. The technology reportedly removes 90 percent of debris with a minimal usage of electricity, Perhaps the best thing about the technology is it has already been tested by NASA in far more severe conditions than it would be required to face here on Earth.

Many countries around the world have huge solar energy installations, and many of these are located in arid regions where water is hard to come by, making water-based cleaning options too costly. The technology could take off quickly, as there is already a $24 billion USD market worldwide, and a huge untapped market in which to expand. The new technology could convince many nations on the fence over solar energy, as it would greatly improve energy output without significantly increasing costs. Less than .05 percent of the world's energy is currently derived from solar panels, but, experts say if just 5 percent of the world's deserts were used to harvest solar power, it would reap enough power to accommodate the needs of the entire planet.

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