Static electricity can keep desert solar panels free of dust
Dust drastically lowers the output of solar panels, but applying an electric field to the panels can make dust particles repel each other and disperse
Illustration of dust removal from a solar panel using static electricity
Sreedath Panat and Kripa Varanasi
Static electricity could remove dust from desert solar panels, saving around 45 billion litres of water every year.
Some of the largest solar farms in the world are in deserts, such as Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in the United Arab Emirates and Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in California. These environments tend to be very dusty, with particles quickly accumulating on solar panels. One month’s dust build-up can cut a solar panel’s output by around 40 per cent.
One of the most common ways of removing this dust is to spray large amounts of distilled water onto the solar panels. With an estimated 45 billion litres of water being used every year just to clean solar panels, the process is costly and unsustainable, says Kripa Varanasi at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.