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The Client:

A leading renewable energy corporation operating 45+ solar
energy farms across the world

Users:

VP of Innovation, Design Engineers, Research and Development

Background

The solar energy market has grown at an exponential rate in
recent years, with the industry experiencing a rapid cost decline
of 85% in the past decade alone1. Although solar energy is
increasingly accessible, the industry still faces challenges and
growing pains. A surprisingly tricky problem is impacting the
conversion of solar energy across the globe: dust on the panels.
Referred to in the industry as solar panel “soiling”, solar farms
in all regions of the world are experiencing this common issue.
Photovoltaic (PV) power generation is inhibited by dust and
pollution particles accumulating on the surfaces of the panels,
leading to radiation transmission losses of 2-50% depending on the
region in which the solar farm is located2. In 2019, the Fraunhofer
Center for Silicon Photovoltaics calculated that global soiling
transmission losses are 3-4%, which will cost the world a predicted
$4.1-7.2 billion in 20233.

Although the answer may seem simple – to clean the panels – this
solution is costly in terms of:

  • Energy spent to power solar panel cleaning
    equipment. Since panels cool down at night and collect dew in the
    morning, dust and other air pollutants go through a process of
    cementation when attaching to the surfaces of the panels, making it
    difficult to clear without high-powered robotic cleaning equipment.
    This equipment can be expensive in terms of energy and money, and
    the cleaning process itself can be harmful to the environment.
  • Money – the National Renewable Energy
    Laboratory in Colorado, US estimates that “a one-time cleaning for
    a 10-megawatt solar farm—which provides enough electricity to
    power 2,000 homes for a day—can cost an estimated $5,000″4. If
    a 10MW farm cleaned the panels once per month, they would need to
    budget $60k annually.

As air quality worsens due to pollution and climate change, some
regions experience higher transmission losses than others. Our
client owns and operates over 45 solar farms with thousands of
panels, located in very humid regions of the world with
considerable amounts of dust and pollutants in the air. The
engineering team needed to find a way to keep the panels from
becoming covered in sticky dust to improve the energy conversion
rate of their solar farms. They turned to Goldfire, an
S&P product they relied on consistently for things like solar
panel layout, installation, and other tasks, to see if it could
help them here as well.

Pain Points

The VP of Innovation tasked the engineering team with finding
solutions across disciplines, specifically looking at solutions
found in nature. The team set out to look for water-repellent
properties that could be reproduced in a laboratory and fitted to
the conditions of their solar panel systems.

They came to S&P Global Engineering Solutions
with the following challenges:

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