Published on December 10th, 2009 | by Susan Kraemer4
Real Solar Breakthrough Could Clean Panels With Less Water
December 10th, 2009 by Susan Kraemer
Solar power is one of the solutions to stop climate change; by ending fossil fuel use, yet ironically, is itself constrained by climate change that is creating increasing desertification. Water is most scarce in the desert. What’s more: it’s getting worse throughout the Southwest, including California, right where insolation is best for maximum solar yield.
Over the last 30 years, average regional California average temperatures have already increased an average of nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit: a 3 degrees rise during April- June, and 1.8 degrees during July – September. Desertification, drought, wildfires and water wars are all increasing with regional temperature rise. So the biggest barrier to (at least utility-scale) solar are local environmental reviews in desert country concerned about water use.
But a new discovery would result in solar arrays that need less washing:
An Israeli team which just published their results in a paper at Nature Nanotechnology found a very cheap and novel way to control the atoms and molecules of peptides so that they “grow” like small forests of grass. These “peptide forests” repel dust and water — a perfect self-cleaning coating for solar panels.
The “self-assembled nano-tubules” they made were able to withstand extreme heat (useful in a desert) while retaining water resistance. This means that washing a surface with this nano-coating would pull both dust and water off more efficiently.
The breakthrough didn’t come fast. First Prof. Ehud Gazit in TAU’s Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology spent six years working on the basic science of developing arrays of self-assembling peptides made from proteins.
Then a team led by Prof. Gil Rosenman of TAU’s Faculty of Engineering helped find useful applications for the research. The next step would be to develop and market the 100 nanometer nano-coating for use. The result is about as cheap to produce as the sweetener aspartame. The lab has already been approached to develop its coating technology commercially.
Who might this breakthrough benefit? Just in California alone, over 10 Gigawatts-worth of solar power – – from a variety of companies, making both PV and solar thermal power – – has signed up with the 30 utilities in the state and is now going through an arduous environmental review, mostly dwelling on water.
California is projected to have a regional temperature rise of up to 9 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. It could be less disastrous regionally, but that depends on how fast we can switch to renewable energy which would get CO2 levels down, which would slow temperature rise.
So we need to get moving and add more solar fast, which we potentially can with utility-scale desert solar. Breakthroughs like this could help us do it faster, by shortening the 18 month environmental reviews. That’s what’s really holding up solar.
Image: Site of proposed Owens Lake Solar Park
by permission from Flikr user Tigersight Copyright 2008, 2009 Roger Barwise
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