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The Solar Industry Welcomes a Coating Above All Others

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

The Goal to Keep Solar Panels Clean and Efficient

A close-up view of a bead of water on the hydrophobic treated surface.
Hydrophobic Properties (media by Fraunhofer)

Keeping solar panels clean is essential for efficiency, but it can be a real headache, and this particular article touches on something near and dear to my heart from the world of coatings. Fortunately, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam, and Plasma Technology FEP have developed an ultra-thin coating that can make solar panels self-cleaning. Let’s take a closer look at this new revolutionary technology!

The Ultra-Thin Coating This self-cleaning coating is only a few nanometers thick — that’s about 1/1000th of a millimeter! It is made of two components: one that is hydrophobic (water repellent-below):

……and one that is hydrophilic (water-attracting)

When water hits the surface of the solar panel coated with this material, it forms tiny droplets that roll off easily due to the hydrophobic properties of the coating. As these droplets roll off, they take any dirt or dust particles with them. This means that your solar panels are kept clean from dirt and dust without any effort from you!

Digging further into the process, graduate student Valentin Heiser from Fraunhofer FEP best sums it up:

We are focusing on photoinduced hydrophilicity on surfaces here,” “To upscale this effect, we apply crystalline titanium oxide to ultrathin glass in a roll-to-roll process for the first time. This is very efficient. The ultrathin and lightweight glass can be applied subsequently to facades or directly incorporated into solar modules as a composite material — and even onto curved surfaces.”

The Benefits The obvious benefit of this new coating is that it keeps your solar panels clean without having to scrub them down manually. This will help keep your panels working more efficiently by ensuring they aren’t covered in dirt and debris. In addition, since less water and cleaning products are needed to keep your panels clean, there will also be environmental benefits associated with using this technology.

The Drawbacks The biggest drawback of this technology right now is its cost. The Fraunhofer Institute estimates that the cost per square meter for their coating is between 400 and 500 Euros (approximately $450-$550 USD). While this may seem pricey, it could save you money in the long run since you won’t need to buy cleaning supplies or hire someone to do regular maintenance on your solar panels. Additionally, as production scales up for this technology, we can expect the cost to decrease significantly over time.

Conclusion: Solar panel self-cleaning coatings are an exciting innovation in renewable energy technology. Not only can they help keep your solar panels working more efficiently by keeping them free from dirt and debris, but they also provide some environmental benefits due to reduced water consumption and fewer cleaning chemicals used in their maintenance.

Although some upfront costs may be associated with using this coating on your solar panels, it could save you money by eliminating the need for regular manual cleaning or hiring someone else to do it for you. For anyone looking to get into renewable energy or upgrade their existing setup, this new coating could be just what you’re looking for!


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