Rain could make your solar panels dirtier, not cleaner

Researchers are trying to figure out factors that affect the life of solar panels

Researcher Abraham Ishihara shows his models for analyzing solar panel performance at Carnegie Mellon University in Moffett Field, California on July 1, 2015

Researcher Abraham Ishihara shows his models for analyzing solar panel performance at Carnegie Mellon University in Moffett Field, California on July 1, 2015

On a second-floor rooftop at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, Abraham Ishihara opens an electrical cabinet bursting with hundreds of wires. Each wire feeds data from an adjacent array of solar panels, helping him collect detailed information about their performance and, perhaps, figure out how solar panels age.

Ishihara, a senior scientist at Carnegie Melon University's Silicon Valley campus, hopes the research will lead to new levels of efficiency in solar electricity generation.

With billions of dollars spent on solar installations each year, it's an important question.

"We are still just understanding the long-term performance characteristics of solar panels, and that's important because when you make an investment, this will be with you for 10, 15, 20 years," he said in a recent interview. "So understanding how solar panels perform over the long term is critical. That data really doesn't exist yet."

The information he's gathering comes from sensors embedded in the array, and a large screen nearby displays a representation of the solar panels' health. Most show up as green, but some are red -- an indication of possible overheating.

"Our goal is to better understand the mechanisms that lead to performance degradation," said Ishihara.

Temperature is thought to be one such mechanism. Sometimes, parts of a panel reach over 100 degrees Celsius and if that happens day after day, it can lead to permanent damage.

It's often caused by a mismatch between the performance of one part of the panel and another, which causes overall performance to suffers. That has a knock-on effect on the performance of the entire array.

"These types of imperfections can worsen over time; it's that's a process we want to understand," he said.

So since 2010, Ishihara has been collecting detailed data about the performance of his panels to try to develop a model for performance and degradation that can be applied to other systems.

The research continues, but his biggest take-away so far is that in the battle against dirt and dust, rain might actually make things worse, not better.

Rather than cleaning a solar array, rain can lead to dust accumulating in the corners of each panel, which can cause significant heating.

Left unchecked, that can cause performance degradation, Ishihara said. "It's really important to clean your panels."

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags popular scienceCarnegie Mellon University

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?