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The solar energy market has grown at an exponential rate in recent years, with the industry experiencing a rapid cost decline of 85% in the past decade alone1. Although solar energy is increasingly accessible, the industry still faces challenges and growing pains. A surprisingly tricky problem is impacting the conversion of solar energy across the globe: dust on the panels. Referred to in the industry as solar panel “soiling”, solar farms in all regions of the world are experiencing this common issue. Photovoltaic (PV) power generation is inhibited by dust and pollution particles accumulating on the surfaces of the panels, leading to radiation transmission losses of 2-50% depending on the region in which the solar farm is located2. In 2019, the Fraunhofer Center for Silicon Photovoltaics calculated that global soiling transmission losses are 3-4%, which will cost the world a predicted $4.1-7.2 billion in 2023.

Although the answer may seem simple – to clean the panels – this solution is costly in terms of:
Energy spent to power solar panel cleaning equipment – Since panels cool down at night and collect dew in the morning, dust and other air pollutants go through a process of cementation when attaching to the surfaces of the panels, making it difficult to clear without high-powered robotic cleaning equipment. This equipment can be expensive in terms of energy and money, and the cleaning process itself can be harmful to the environment.
Money – The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, US estimates that “a one-time cleaning for a 10-megawatt solar farm—which provides enough electricity to power 2,000 homes for a day—can cost an estimated $5,000”4. If a 10MW farm cleaned the panels once per month, they would need to budget $60k annually.
As air quality worsens due to pollution and climate change, some regions experience higher transmission losses than others. Our client owns and operates over 45 solar farms with thousands of panels, located in very humid regions of the world with considerable amounts of dust and pollutants in the air. The engineering team needed to find a way to keep the panels from becoming covered in sticky dust to improve the energy conversion rate of their solar farms.