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Summary:

Solar’s got a few dark secrets: Sometimes toxic materials are used in panels and sometimes chemicals get dumped in the manufacturing process. But what’s the real dirty secret? According to OCS Energy, a startup based in Petaluma, Calif., it’s actually, well, dirt — and tree sap, […]

Solar’s got a few dark secrets: Sometimes toxic materials are used in panels and sometimes chemicals get dumped in the manufacturing process. But what’s the real dirty secret? According to OCS Energy, a startup based in Petaluma, Calif., it’s actually, well, dirt — and tree sap, bugs, moss or anything that can grime up the panel and dampen its energy output.

OCS Energy’s answer is an automated cleaning system, dubbed SolarWash, that attaches to the array of panels and can wash the system (Update: targeting 100kw installations or larger) on a weekly basis. This morning the company is announcing its system, which it says is “the first commercially available automated photovoltaic panel cleaning system.” It uses nozzles to spray down one side and a washing process that is controlled by a microprocessor.

OCS says if the solar installation is experiencing a loss of energy of 5 percent or more due to dirt, then the system can pay back within 3 to 5 years. (Update: The company’s CEO Richard O’Connell tells us that the system costs $0.30 per watt DC to install, and that the company is in the process of bringing those costs down.) That energy loss estimate is actually a pretty conservative claim from a solar panel maintenance company. Many of the service-oriented companies in the solar panel maintenance market say dirt and grim can reduce a panel’s energy output by 15 to 25 percent.

But OCS says its automated solution is better than service-oriented solutions, because having employees manually wash solar systems is a safety hazard. The washing system seems pretty straight forward (see video below), but our big question is: Will major commercial solar installers see a need for this?

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By Katie Fehrenbacher
  1. So how much water does this take per joule of energy made?

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  2. [...] R­e­ad&nb­sp­;|&nb­sp­;Permalink&n­b­sp;|&n­b­sp;Emai­l thi­s­ | Lin­k­in­g&n­bsp;Blo­gs&n­bs­p;|&n­bs­p;Co­­mme­nt­s [...]

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  3. It’s not something a lot of people may think about, but washing solar panels is very important!

    We have some photos of the process at our blog – http://sweetsolarhome.com/2008/08/washing-solar-panels/

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  4. [...] NEWS Are Dirty Solar Panels a Big Problem? According to OCS Energy, a startup based in Petaluma, CA, it’s dirt – and tree sap, bugs, [...]

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  5. [...] NEWS Are Dirty Solar Panels a Big Problem? According to OCS Energy, a startup based in Petaluma, CA, it’s dirt – and tree sap, bugs, [...]

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  7. Funny. No doubt one of many companies we’ll see addressing the “support” sector of solar deployments. I wonder why you couldn’t just spray them with a teflon-like anti-sicking substance at the time they’re made.

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    1. Yes surface applications integrate the production line or in the field maintenance schedules. PURETi Clear™ creates a sustainable, and proactive self-cleaning surface that continuously breaks down grime and organic film buildup.PURETi Clear air dries to form durable, ultra-thin and invisible film that oxidizes organic micro particles when irradiated by UV light. PURETi Clear was specially developed for glass windows, solar panels, LED screens and polycarbonate surfaces.
      Formulated to create a photocatalytic surface which continuously oxidizes organic micro particles at the molecular level.
      ■ It creates a hydrophilic surface that causes water to sheet away.■ Reduces cleaning maintenance costs by up to 50%, water, energy, chemicals, and labor expended in cleaning.
      ■ Treated surfaces need to be cleaned half as often, and are twice as easy to clean. jdickson@csggrp.com

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  8. To Alex, We have such a coating and are working with manufactures and large commercial PV installers in Silicon Valley.

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  9. I found your site cruizen’ google… You can learn how to make solar panels to go green too! I use my home made solar panel to heat my swimming pool – http://www.Keep-Green.com

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  10. It makes perfect sense, even though solar panel cleanliness isn’t something I ever thought about. I wonder why a solar power system couldn’t be covered with a clear plexiglass material that would let macimum light through while protecting the panels themselves. That way someone could just “wash the windows” to recover their lost generation potential. In the right situation, something like a windshield wiper setup could probably do it automatically.

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