Fused silica in solar panels makes their orientation less vital.
There has always been one clear rule for anyone installing rooftop solar panels: point them in the direction where they can capture the greatest amount of sunlight. For people living in the Northern Hemisphere this means pointing the panel to the south; for those in the Southern Hemisphere, the panels should point to the north.
The second important rule is about the tilt of the panels. This is because of the Earth’s seasons. In summer the sun is higher in the sky than during the winter, so the tilt of the panels has to be adjusted manually to compensate for the time of year.
All these problems may belong in the past, as researchers in Asia and the Middle East develop a special fused silica glass coating that will enable a solar panel to capture sunlight from a variety of angles.
This fused silica miracle has been developed by engineers at the Thuwal-based King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia and the Taoyuan City-based National Central University in Taiwan.
The fused silica is used as a type of packaging, or coating, material for the photovoltaic cells in the solar panels. The coating has a complicated internal structure of ultra-thin silica rods, called nanorods, embedded within honeycombed shaped silica walls. The diameter of the rods is smaller than the wavelength of visible light.
The scientists call this a hierarchically structured package. Such packaged solar cells are able to enhance the conversion efficiency of sunlight into electricity. This efficiency rose by 5.2% when the sunlight impacted the cells at a normal of incidence and rose as high as 46% when the angle of incidence was 60 degrees.
The packaging also displayed another important benefit: self-cleaning. Solar panels are useless if they are covered in grime, because for obvious reasons the sunlight is unable to penetrate to the photovoltaic cells to generate electricity. But the scientists noticed that the hierarchical structure of the panels enabled their use to a 98.8% efficiency for up to six weeks when exposed outdoors. The self-cleaning worked by repelling all forms of pollution and dust particles.
The self-cleaning mechanism is a very important development for countries such as Saudi Arabia, where sand particles and dust can cut down the efficiency of solar cells by nearly 70%.
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