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Cutting edge technology underpinning a new industrial coating could alleviate water wastage in solar energy production

Opus Materials Technologies, developers of industrial coatings based on “materials by design” principles, together with a consortium of academics and scientists, are set to transform solar energy generation through the development of a novel dirt-repellent coating for industrial-scale photovoltaic (PV) panels.

Trials conducted to date have demonstrated that the cutting-edge technology at the heart of the ground-breaking coating, Solar Sharc®, could dramatically reduce, even eliminate water usage (incurred through O&M processes), making solar power a truly sustainable energy source.

Opus have so far secured close to £4m in UK and EU funding to develop validate & test Solar Sharc®.

Although solar power should be one of the eco-friendliest energy sources, it is tainted by the vast amounts of water consumed during routine operational and maintenance processes. Solar modules must be cleaned regularly to prevent dirt and dust from accumulating to optimise their performance.

The majority of large-scale solar plants are situated in hot/dry countries and the millions of litres of water needed to clean the individual panels is draining natural reserves, leaving inhabitants with highly depleted water sources. Solar energy installations in India for example, consume in excess of 2.7b litres of water annually, while in paradox, only 16% of its population has access to running water.

The nanotechnology underpinning Solar Sharc® creates an uneven, “lotus leaf”- style surface that dynamically repels external pollutants such as dust, dirt or animal waste, therefore preventing dirt build-ups from occurring in the first place.

Additionally, the manufacturing process is based on a “materials by design” approach, which means its chemical composition can be fine-tuned according to geographical location or climatic conditions. This is a key factor from an operational and ecological perspective because it helps ensure that industrial-size installations are both economically viable and sustainable in the longer-term.

“Excessive water consumption is the unspoken side effect of the solar energy industry”, comments Darren Higham, Marketing Director at Opus Materials Technologies. “For solar energy production to be efficient and hold its own against other energy sources, solar modules must be cleaned regularly and the environmental repercussions can be dramatic. Solar Sharc® could be a real game changer because lengthy cleaning processes would potentially be eliminated, preserving water resources in the world’s driest regions.”

Solar Sharc® has already been tested in real world installations in Europe, and the Middle East and the results have been encouraging.

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