Wash Your Solar Cells

To augment the energy supply, many are installing solar energy systems or residential solar panels. In general, these are flat units, placed at an angle on the rooftop. That naturally leads to the question of keeping them clean, which people equate to cleaning the roof itself. As this cleaning is usually left to the rainwaters, the next question comes as whether we should depend on the rains for cleaning the surface of the installed solar cells as well. Moreover, some also worry about whether water is good for the cells and will not damage them.

For these skeptics, scientists have a new type of waterproof solar cell that generates electricity even when compressed, stretched, or soaked in water. This is good news for those in the wearable solar cell industry. Wearable solar cells provide power to devices for monitoring health, usually as sensors incorporated into clothing, recording heartbeats, body temperature, and other parameters, for providing early warning of medical problems.

These extremely thin and flexible organic solar cells, or photovoltaic cells as scientists call them, are a result of research in the University of Tokyo. A material, by name PNTz4T, coats both sides of the cells with a stretchable and waterproof film. The researchers then deposit the cells within an inverse architecture of a one-micrometer-thick parylene film. After this process, the researchers applied an acrylic-based elastomer coating to both sides of the cell, which prevents water infiltration.

The elastomer is transparent and allows light to enter the cell, but does not allow air and water from leaking into it. This makes the solar cells longer lasting compared to conventional photovoltaic cells. The researchers decided to test the effectiveness of the coating by immersing the coated cells in water for two hours. They found the cells’ resistance to water to be high, as its efficiency to convert from light to electricity dropped by only 5.4 percent.

Next, the researchers tested the durability of the coated cell by subjecting it to compression. They compressed the cell by half for twenty cycles while placing drops of water on it. Even after surviving this brutal test, the researchers found the cell still had more than 80% of its original efficiency still intact. The above tests confirmed the cells’ mechanical robustness, high efficiency, and great environmental stability.

Not only as wearable sensors, these new washable, stretchable, and lightweight organic photovoltaic cells will also be suitable as long-term power sources as rooftop solar panels. Most experts do not recommend washing solar cells regularly for keeping the dust and debris from collecting on the surface. Since these new solar panels have the additional feature of being waterproof, there is no danger from giving them a frequent wash.

Experts feel it is best to let the rain take care of washing the solar panel. By monitoring the system functionality such as checking the energy bills and usage on monthly basis, the user can detect changes in the electricity bill. Another check can be made by visually inspecting the surface of the panels. If cleaning is necessary, washing it with a hose of water will do the job.