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NASA Solves Solar Energy's Dust Problem

Here's a problem for solar energy you may not have thought about: dust. With many of the best sites for solar panels in deserts, the accumulation of dust on top of photovoltaic surfaces can block sunlight and reduce their efficiency by up to 80 percent.

Here's a problem for solar energy you may not have thought about: dust. With many of the best sites for solar panels in deserts, the accumulation of dust on top of photovoltaic surfaces can block sunlight and reduce their efficiency by up to 80 percent. And cleaning a huge field of solar panels by hand is a big task. Interestingly, NASA faced a similar problem with the Mars rovers, which had to be able to clean their own panels with no direct human help in a dusty environment.


And the NASA scientists solved it. The self-cleaning technology they came up with uses "a layer of an electrically sensitive material to coat each [solar] panel. Sensors detect when dust concentrations reach a critical level and then an electric charge energises the material sending a dust-repelling wave across its surface."

The same technology is expected to be commercially available within the year. Unexpected breakthroughs like this are one of the best reasons to keep a robust space program going.

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