Anti-soiling treatments for photovoltaic (PV) modules (also known as solar panels) are a solution to the loss of energy production due to the effect of soiling. Soiling on the surface of PV modules, usually caused by dust, grime, and other pollutants, reduces the amount of sunlight that reaches the panel, reducing the ability of the panel to function or the amount of energy able to be produced. The compounding effects of PV module soiling in utility scale energy production power plants can have a huge impact on productivity.
In current production plants, there are several issues associated with anti-soiling coatings: application frequency and location, expense compared to direct energy production, and impacts on transparency introducing a new source of potential production loss.
Currently, technologies available on the market allow the application of different kinds of anti-soiling coatings. However, in order to obtain a proper density of coating on the glass surface and an easy deposition process, it is necessary to apply the coating on the glass during the PV module manufacturing process. This poses a significant problem: it is difficult to find proper product application into operating power plants, where PV module work is protected by the producer-manufacturer of the product warranty.
The current products have to be applied again frequently (on a yearly basis for some coatings and at most once every 5 years for others) and no information is available in proven external advisory control and reporting concerning the coating’s effects over time, including the loss of effectiveness and the transparency of the glass to solar irradiation in the PV module spectrum of light useful for energy production.
Costs for existing coatings are frequently higher than the benefits coming from energy harvesting or, in heavy soiling environments, from avoiding periodical mechanical cleaning (performed manually with hydraulic lances, brushes, or with tractors and water). Additional costs that could be avoided concern recent market sectors’ advancements in robotic cleaning, where the initial high investment is compensated by the avoided losses from reduced soiling, over time.
In many cases, anti-soiling functionality is frequently proposed together with anti-reflective coating (ARC). ARC is now usually embedded during the manufacturing of the protective glass needed for PV modules, so ARC functionality is not necessary for the purpose of this Challenge.
In this Challenge, Enel Green Power is searching for proposals that provide anti-soiling coatings that can be applied in operational PV production plants to reduce soiling on solar panels used in power plants.
To measure the anti-soiling performance of coatings, the particles whose deposition should be avoided, or highly reduced, should include small soil particles, bird droppings, and other particles brought by wind or rain (e.g. desert sand). In harsh environments and weather, it would be of benefit if the coating acted against snow or ice deposition and coverage: when covered by snow, the actual energy production of these panels is zero. The main performance indicator and profit comparison of coatings and their effectiveness will be in additional energy produced by the plant, however reduction in the need for maintenance, reapplication, and cleaning costs will also improve the solutions’ cost effectiveness.
Proper anti-soiling coatings could avoid soiling losses associated with the deposition of powders on modules, yearly manual or machine-washing services (with raising one-shot costs and unpredictable lasting benefits), and investments needed for robotic cleaning.
Your coating solution will have to be applied in operating PV power plants by trained operators instructed by the product manufacturer, rather than in the manufacture of the module itself as in the current system. The product application in operating power plants must be performed by the manufacturer itself (or its own subcontractors) to avoid mismatch in the deposition density on the surface, general incorrect deposition issues, and keep the product or solution within warranty.
Ideally, your solution should also completely remove the need to clean the modules (whether manual or robotic), if the residual soiling ratio should be maintained at low tolerable levels. The economical evaluation could be improved by additional circular economy benefits of your solutions (e.g. avoided use of water, machineries, oil as fuel for tractors, waste, etc.).
In general, the solution needs to satisfy the following must-have requirements:
Effectiveness: the anti-soiling coating must protect against dust, small soil particles, and ideally snow and ice.
Safety: The anti-soiling product should not be hazardous for operators, either in its application or during normal operation of the panels.
Durability: the duration of the anti-soiling effect must last at least 5 years, with warranty from the manufacturer, before reapplication.
Ease of application and maintenance: the product must be easily applied.
Transparency: light transparency indicators for the PV modules/solar panels must be kept at high levels, as to allow additional energy harvesting which will be the main profit indicator for the technology or coating.
Cost-effective: the solution must be cost-effective, compared to the costs associated with alternative methods or current cleaning technologies. The use of improved coatings will also reduce labor cost currently needed for reapplication, maintenance, and cleaning.
Sustainable: your solution should be secure for the environment and weather, avoid pollution of the area, and not result in negative impacts in general on the environment where the power plant is in operation.
In addition, the Solver must provide:
The proposals for this Challenge will be assessed by Enel Green Power on the basis of the criteria below::
Compliance with the Challenge’s request and the quality of the solution, including must-haves and nice-to-haves, as specified on the Open Innovability® Challenge’s page;
Degree of innovation;
Solutions that are not generally known or easily accessible to experts in the sector;
Technical and normative compliance;
Replicability in different contests and countries
Economic and realization feasibility.
The submitted proposal should consist of a detailed technical description including:
Advantages and weaknesses of the proposed solution compared to the current way of working.
Constraints or technological gaps for the solution adoption.
Data, case studies, patents and journal references or any additional material that supports the proposed solution.
Cost estimation and Technology readiness level (TRL) of the proposed solutions.
Description of the most suitable use-cases accordingly to the performance and characteristic of the proposed solution.
The proposal should not include any personal identifying information (name, username, company, address, phone, email, personal website, resume, etc.) or any information the Solvers may consider as their Intellectual Property they do not want to share.
This Challenge contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals:
- SDG 7: Affordable and clean energy
- SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure