Self-Clean Solar Panels, or

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Solar Modules That Clean Themselves

Did you know that it is possible to improve the production of your solar panels by making modules self-cleaning? [Difference between solar modules and solar panels.]

Substances found to impair solar module performance include carbon monoxide, lead, particulate matter, pollen, VOC’s, nitrogen oxides, bird droppings, spotting and fogging.  You might also encounter accumulations of lichen, moss, and fireplace ash or smoke.

Many of these are naturally occurring or organic.  Others come from petrochemicals (also organic).  In another blog post about things to consider before cleaning solar modules, I also mentioned the ash that appeared on my kitchen skylight this summer.

Commercial PV solar farms schedule regular cleaning to maximize their electric production, but the idea is not so attractive to the average homeowner.

Labor-Saving, Safe, and Cost-effective

Rainbow over rain-washed solar modules.
Freshly washed solar modules.

Commercial building managers have used a product to keep stuff from sticking to glass, such as windows and solar panels for more than 20 years.  It is what they call a photocatalyst.

Activated by the same sunlight that your system converts to electricity, it causes organic matter to break down more quickly than usual.  The oxidizing effect decomposes hydrocarbons and organic growths, like mold.

Non-Stick Solar Module Treatment

What if you could treat your panels once, and they shed pollutants and debris by themselves?  Wouldn’t it be great if everything simply decomposed, refused to stick and blew away?

Creating a self-cleaning panel is considerably safer than climbing on your roof.

Though activated by sunlight, this photocatalyst product does not get used up and in remarkably long-lasting.  The result is a continuously cleaning process resulting in much cleaner modules, on average, at lower cost than frequent professional manual cleanings.

Once applied, this product breaks down organic matter and makes the glass surface hydrophilic (water loving).  This makes sure that water sticks to the glass, with everything else floating above.  [Products like Rain-X are hydrophobic, and cause water to “flee” or ball-up and run away, leaving stuck-on dirt behind.]

Treated glass is also anti-static, so that dust is not attracted to solar modules in the first place.

Modules Cleaned by Wind and Rain

Because the module treatment quickly breaks down organic pollutants into other compounds, they don’t stick to the treated modules like mud.  Either wind or rain can easily sweep them clean, as a result. 

There are many commercial uses for this self-cleaning technology.  This solution is not new, even for residential rooftop solar.

Not Rocket Science

In fact, because of the obvious difficulties of cleaning solar panels at some distance above the ground, NASA used something similar on the solar panels of at least one of the Mars Rovers (I can’t confirm which one).

These Rovers were built to last 90 days, but some have been operating for 15 years or more, without anyone going up to clean the solar, treated or not.

Life on Mars?

Bird droppings and tree sap have not been a problem on Mars (so far).  But Mars does have dust.  Water?  Not so much, so no mud.  On Earth, we have both, and pollutants are sticky.  Getting it to release can require some scrubbing, unless you treat modules to be self-cleaning.

Dust on Mars may actually have to bury a rover in dirt to stop it.

More than Just Convenient

Not only does putting this product on glass keep such dirt from sticking, it actually cleans the air.  Acetone, formaldehyde, hydrocarbon, and carbon monoxide are rendered harmless.

If you wish, you can speed up the continuous cleaning process with a spray of water from the hose.  Treated modules require no scrubbing, rags, buckets, ladders, or soap, because of their new chemical properties.  And, most people don’t bother with the hose and still get the guaranteed results of improved PV solar panel output.

Other Benefits of Treated Self-Cleaning Solar Panels

Besides cleaning the solar modules and the air:

Solar panels inside the treated modules accept more sun.

Panels remain cooler.  That helps the solar electronics function more efficiently and last longer, resulting in higher lifetime production of electricity.

Once treated, the cleaning and cooling effect will cause the modules to produce 5% more energy every year than they did before treatment.  And that’s guaranteed, for 20 years.

To give you an idea, if your system has 20 solar panels, each producing equally, and you were to remove one panel, you have lost 5% of the output of the system.  (100% / 20 = 5%)

But if you treat the remaining 19 panels, and boost their output by 5%, you gain 95% of the lost production back.  (5% x 19 = 95%)

As a result of the extra production, assuming you would otherwise have to buy from the Utility, the savings often pays for the treatment very quickly.  The return on investment will vary with the size of your system and the rate of Utility cost increases, but it should pay for itself and more.

TOU Rates

Your system size and number of panels are central to calculating how much value it has to you.  But some kilowatts are more valuable/costly than others.

Besides acquiring more cheap energy from a system you already have, in PG&E territory, because of TOU rates, solar homeowners can save themselves from some of the high-user penalties that are imposed when their peak time of use is at the same time as the Utility’s peak rates.

If you need the production, giving your solar modules the “Nano Photocatalyst-treatment” is probably the easiest way to get a little extra electric production year after year, without adding more panels or climbing on the roof and cleaning them regularly.

Keep in mind that the increased production is for 20 years with no cleaning needed—so no additional expense after one treatment.

How to Get Self-Cleaning Solar

I have connections with the exclusive provider in Northern California.  Please contact me if you would like more information.

Cost for the one-time treatment for rooftop solar, varies, based on the number of modules, location, and whether they are treated before or after installation.  I’ll be happy to request a quote and compare it to the expected value of your increased production.

Modern life creates new problems, but I’m always delighted to see how quickly we find ways to solve them.  I’ll bet cave-men/women would have been glad to have a self-cleaning cave for all that wood smoke.  How about you?  Please comment below, and Bookmark, Like, Share, Follow, or Subscribe. Contact me with questions or suggestions.

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