Researchers at Boston University developed the technology which can be used both in small- and large-scale solar panel systems. Said to be the only technology for automatic dust cleaning that does not require water or mechanical movement, it uses only a fraction of the electricity generated by the panels to remove 90 percent of dust deposited on it.
Currently less than 0.04 percent of global energy production is derived from solar panels, but study leader Malay Mazumder, from Boston University, says dedicating only four percent of the world's deserts to solar power harvesting could generate and completely meet global energy needs.
An emphasis on alternative energy sources and concerns about sustainability are already driving worldwide growth rates rapidly. The use of solar panels increased by 50 percent during 2003-2008, and forecasts suggest a 25 percent annual growth rate in the future. Currently the market size for solar panels is around US $24 billion.
Mazumder said: "A dust layer of one-seventh of an ounce per square yard decreases solar power conversion by 40 percent. In Arizona, dust is deposited each month at about 4 times that amount. Deposition rates are even higher in the Middle East, Australia, and India."
Large-scale solar installations already exist in deserts in the United States, Middle East, and Australia, where clean water is scarce, making it expensive to clean the solar panels.
The self-cleaning technology involves deposition of a transparent, electrically sensitive material deposited on glass or a transparent plastic sheet covering the panels. Sensors detect levels of dust on the surface and send a dust-repelling electrical wave across the surface when levels become too high.
It is hoped that the technology will play an important role in increasing the efficiency and reducing the maintenance costs of generating electricity from sunlight. The technology is expected to be available for commercial use in one year.