Solar panels can’t operate efficiently if they’re caked in dirt, but cleaning them regularly can become a time-consuming process. Engineers in Germany have now developed an ultra-thin coating that can make solar panels and other surfaces self-cleaning.
Solar is the biggest source of renewable energy, and it’s growing quickly. But as you could imagine, it’s not feasible to send someone out with a squeegee to clean millions of solar panels in each park. Having them clean themselves would be ideal – and now researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany have made strides towards that concept.
The team created a coating that changes its response to water based on the time of day, allowing it to shed any buildup of dust and dirt fairly quickly. The key ingredient is titanium oxide, which in its normal state repels water, forming drops that easily roll off. When the titanium oxide is exposed to UV light, however, it changes state to become highly water-attracting, which keeps the surface wet with a thin layer of water.