Solar panel coating increases efficiency
Solar energy has high potential in the countries of sunshine; in Qatar the construction of the country’s largest solar powder plant has been started and it is expected to be finished and operating by 2020 with a capacity of 200 MW. By 2030 16% of Qatar’s energy needs are planned to be fulfilled by solar energy resulting in a capacity of 10 GW. With so much investment and energy production in solar panels it is important to ensure that they work efficiently and with the lowest possible maintenance requirements. For that, there is solar panel coating which allows the panels to function optimally with the least maintenance.
In this article we look at solar panel coating, the technology behind it, and how it maximizes output of solar panels. We also look at the solar panel coating manufacturers and products available in Qatar.
Solar panel coating comes with unique protective properties
At its most simple a solar cell converts sunlight into electricity. Natural constraints on solar cell productivity (such as the second law of thermodynamics) prohibit a 100% efficient cell. In fact the world record for efficiency, set in 2014, is a mere 46%. This is why, when it comes to solar cell efficiency, every little helps. Improved efficiency is the result of a combination of properties of solar panel coating. Solar panel coating can be:
- Provides long-lasting protection – The coating is durable and can withstand different weather conditions.
- Anti-reflective – An anti-reflective layer increases the amount of light transmitted through the surface of the panel and thus increases efficiency.
- Hydrophobic – The hydrophobic coating allows water to flow more easily from the panel surface and reduces the negative effect of inclement weather.
- Easy to clean and maintain – With the self-cleaning properties of hydrophobicity, the coating requires far less maintenance to ensure efficiency.
- Self-cleaning – Contaminants like bird droppings and pollution do not adhere to it. This also makes the coating anti-dust (and anti-sand) and prevents the growth of mold. A little rain is all it takes to remove dirt and grime.
Solar panel coatings based on nanotechnology
The common feature of the various solar panel coatings available is that they are all nano coatings. A nano coating is one which uses nanomaterials like titanium dioxide or silica to form an ultra thin protective layer on a substrate. When applied, the coating will form a chemical bond with the substrate, and the miniscule size of the particles means that it more densely ‘wets’ the surface. In short, it adheres incredibly tightly and closely, creating a seamless barrier between the substrate and the environment. There are two main methods of boosting performance through coating:
- Hydrophobicity: A nano coating works because of the way the particles organize themselves and bond with the surface. The surface of the coating is hydrophobic in one of two ways: Either (1) it has extremely low surface energy (which means very low molecular attraction), or (2) the surface is highly textured with peaks and troughs. Substances cannot adhere or ‘wet’ low surface energy, and a textured surface means not enough surface area is available for substances to adhere to. Both these surface types repel water, dirt, and dust, and prevent the growth of mold keeping the surface free of any contaminants that might hinder sunlight absorption.
- Non-reflective properties: An anti-reflective (AR) coating for solar panels is a nano coating which reduces the reflection and glare produced by an uncoated solar panel. It does this by reducing the difference in refractive index between air and glass. When light hits the coated glass, there is a far higher rate of transmission than when it hits uncoated glass. The anti-reflective solar coating is also silica-based, which gives it added protective properties including being hydrophobic, easy to clean, weather resistant, and mechanically robust.
Solar panel coatings in the future
The solar energy boom has led to an increase in research and investment in solar solutions. Companies such as Tesla have rolled out innovative solar products to supply market demand and anticipate a stronger solar energy future. As well as development companies, there has been increased scientific investment.
New technologies are being announced all the time. Thin film technologies in particular are an area of huge growth. Thin film technologies include spray on, printable, and perovskite cells. Perovskite cells are sprayable solar cells, soluble in a variety of solvents. This could mean that printing solar cells like we currently print books is possible in the near future. Perovskite cells are particularly exciting because scientists have managed to achieve a rapid increase in efficiency in just a few years, already almost matching traditional silicon-based cells.
Another solar panel nano coating innovation allows solar cells to catch sunlight no matter the direction of the panel. Traditionally, solar panels are angled towards a certain direction in order to produce energy most effectively. Like the super-black coating Vantablack, this coating uses regulated nano structures to capture and direct sunlight, enhancing the efficiency of the solar panel.
Solar panel coating companies in Qatar
There are thousands of solar panels in Qatar, and with that kind of market demand there are naturally many solar panel coating manufacturers to meet it. Solar panel protective coating can be applied aftermarket or OEM, but anti-reflective solar panel coating is more commonly applied OEM. An example is DSM, who provide an AR coating (as well as an anti-soiling coating) for solar glass which is applied at the glass producer. 3M also produces an AR coating for OEM, applied to the glass before tempering. Note that the aftermarket nano coatings for solar panels often require re-application every 2 to 5 years to maintain optimal protection.
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