Reduce maintenance and boost efficiency with solar panel coating
Solar power is the fastest growing source of new energy worldwide, and its growth is expected to continue. Technological advances, decreasing costs, and a trend towards environmentally friendly energy sources all drive the push towards solar energy. In the UK, government initiatives and schemes combined with the lowering costs have led to a solar panel bool. In April 2017, the UK national grid went without coal power for 24 hours, the first whole day without coal since the industrial revolution. Alternative power sources saved the day. 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.
In this article we look at solar panel coating, the technology behind it, and how it maximises output of solar panels. We also look at the solar panel coating manufacturers and products available in the UK.
The benefits of solar panel protective coating
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:
- Hydrophobic – In rainy climates like the UK, this is particularly beneficial. The hydrophobic coating allows water to flow more easily from the panel surface and reducing the negative effect of inclement weather.
- Anti-reflective – An anti-reflective layer increases the amount of light transmitted through the surface of the panel and thus increases efficiency.
- Self-cleaning – Contaminants like bird droppings and pollution do not adhere to it. This also makes the coating anti-dust and prevents the growth of mould. A little rain is all it takes to remove dirt and grime.
- Easy to clean and maintain – With the self-cleaning properties of hydrophobicity, the coating requires far less maintenance to ensure efficiency.
- Provides long-lasting protection – The coating is durable and can withstand different weather conditions.
How nanotechnology improves solar panel efficiency
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:
- Anti-reflective (AR) coating: An anti-reflective 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.
- Hydrophobic coating: A nano coating works because of the way the particles organise themselves and bond with the surface. The surface of the coating is hydrophobic in one of two ways: Either it has extremely low surface energy (which means very low molecular attraction), or 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 mould.
The future of solar panel coating innovation
The solar energy boom has led to an increase in research and investment in solar solutions. Companies like Tesla have rolled out innovative solar products to supply market demand and anticipate a stronger solar energy future. BP have invested £150 million in solar development company Lightsource, who focus on the acquisition, development, and long-term management of large-scale solar projects. 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 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 manufacturers in the UK
There are thousands of solar panels across the UK, 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. Companies that provide hydrophobic solar panel coating services in the UK include NanoTreat, nanoShell, and Tech Coating Solutions.
For more information about solar panel coating for your project, get in touch! Our experts are here to help. Use the button below and let us know the details of your request. After consultation with our coating partners, we will connect you with a coating solution for your needs.