In recent years, India, one of the most sunshine rich countries in the world, has finally gained momentum towards making full use of this potential. The ramifications of becoming energy independent, and to support nearly 134 crore people and growing through renewable energy are mind-boggling. In 2017, India added nearly twenty gigawatts to its solar energy capacity. Right now, this is a drop in ocean of the energy needed to propel the world’s fastest growing economy. Several hurdles made the country lag behind China – slow speed of innovation and technology, bureaucratic hurdles among others. In the present year, however, a significant development has eased the way towards obtaining maximum benefit from every single ray of sunlight.
So far, solar panels have been installed at traffic signals, for streetlights, limited power production, to run home appliances and as a backup in villages if traditional power sources were down. Solar panels need to be mounted on higher grounds and on roofs to ensure that they remain constantly exposed to sunlight throughout the day. However, they were also exposed to dust, moisture, weather vagaries, pollen, dirt, and other contaminants. They reduced the power generation capacity by up to forty percent. So, solar panels needed to be cleaned nearly every week with detergents. While this is easy for small home installations, cleaning large solar energy fields, streetlights etc so regularly is massively expensive, laborious and time-consuming. However, efficiency demanded as much.
International Advanced Research Centre for Powdered Metallurgy and New Materials (ARCI) based in Hyderabad has come up with a solution that is proving to be a godsend. They drew inspiration from how raindrops simply trickle off lotus leaves. The result has been a new variety of solar panels which are self-cleaning. Nanotechnology has been used to coat the solar panels with a unique material that is superhydrophobic. To clean, simply spraying such panels with water makes contaminants roll off along with moisture. Currently, in the testing stage, these panels have demonstrated that they reduce loss during transmission and that they are highly compatible with Indian weather. But most importantly, they have proven resistant to dust, which is the number one problem regarding efficient solar panel use in India.
India’s National Solar Mission is a joint initiative of the Union and State governments in India to promote solar energy. It was launched in 2010 and originally aimed to achieve twenty gigawatts of solar power capacity by the year 2022. This target was achieved in 2018 itself. Now, India is gearing up to achieve one hundred gigawatts capacity by 2022. The initiative includes not just installed new solar grids and expanding solar energy generation and usage, but also to achieve optimum capacity from already installed solar panels. The ARCI’s innovation of self-cleaning solar panels has considerably boosted the initiative, along with promoting domestic innovation capabilities.