Dirt and reflection are no friends to thin film solar panel efficiency, and XeroCoat Inc. is on the way to solving both problems with a set of patented solar coatings that keep solar modules cleaner while cutting down on reflection. The Redwood City-based company has just won a U.S. Department of Energy grant to develop a method for applying its anti-reflective coating directly onto assembled thin film modules. A XeroCoat subsidiary is also working on a complementary coating that resists soil and dust, under a grant from the Australian government. Along with lowering production costs and boosting efficiency, the coatings could substantially reduce maintenance costs for solar energy, bringing it closer to true cost-competitiveness with coal and other non-renewable fuels.
XeroCoat Solar Patents
Xerocoat entered the solar energy industry with a bang last year, announcing three patents for producing and manipulating silica and silica-like films for solar panels. Anti-reflective solar panel coatings are nothing new, but a breakthrough in production costs is a big deal. XeroCoat’s patented process eliminates the separate heat-intensive sintering step required by the manufacture of conventional silica coatings. Instead, it uses a room temperature, low pressure technology that cures the coating directly onto the solar module.
Anti-Reflection Coatings for Crystalline vs. Thin Film Solar Panels
Reflection is a big issue for solar efficiency, causing a loss of 4% to 15% during daylight hours. XeroCoat’s anti-reflective coating for conventional crystalline solar panels is an industry standard, but the entire crystalline approach is rapidly being overtaken by thin film technology, which uses far less material to generate solar energy. The Department of Energy grant provides XeroCoat with $2.9 million to refine its coating application technology to the point where it exceeds the current cost targets for thin film modules. Aside from significant savings at the manufacturing end, XeroCoat anticipates that its coating will result in a 3% increase in peak power output, and up to 5% in energy produced per kwh.
Dust and Soil Resistant Coatings
In dry regions where rainfall doesn’t regularly wash particles off of solar panels, the energy and costs associated with dust removal are a substantial impediment to adopting solar energy on a mass scale. The accumulated buildup of dust and soil on solar panels can result in an efficiency loss of 4-6%, and the notorious Australian drought has brought new urgency to the development of dust-resistant solar technology in that country. XeroCoat’s wholly owned Australian subsidiary XeroCoat Pty Ltd, is working on a grant from Australia’s Climate Ready program to address solar efficiency loss due to accumulated dust and soil, as well as reflection.
The Future of Thin Film
A commercially viable set of refelction and soil resistant coatings could bring thin film solar technology closer into cost competitiveness with fossil fuels far sooner than anticipated, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of crystalline solar technology. Developers of the world’s largest solar plant in Washington State are currently weighing the cost benefits of crystalline compared to thin film technology, based on a variety of factors including local sourcing. With everything going solar, from cars and ships to affordable housing developments, there are plenty of applications to go around.
Image: guydonges on flickr.com.
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