We have an active R&D program, and many additional features are planned for the future. Most are associated with minimising the impact on precious water supplies, other with special locations or other innovations.
Water Conservation Technology
The water cascade applied to the panel is so even that, where multiple rows of panels abut one another, we're confident that, with the right fittings, we'll be able to transfer the water to lower rows. This will further reduce water consumption and reduce the cost of the installation. If we use conventional means to test the system, it will be very expensive, so we're looking at other prototyping methods.
Where water is scarce or of poor quality, we're planning to make treatment options (e.g., softening, sediment filtration, ultra-filtration) available to allow non-drinkable water sources to be used such as bore, dam & recovered water. We expect that with the exception of water softening (for hard water), these options will only be viable for larger or "mission critical" (e.g., off-grid) solar installations.
We are investigating using car windscreen rain detection technology to further reduce water consumption by deferring a wash if substantial rain falls between scheduled cleaning cycles; this will require sensor testing, but importantly, research to ensure that the system can detect rainfall that is adequate to clean the panels.
In some circles, much is made of the impact of bird droppings on solar panels. In our experience, it is a much less significant problem that is often claimed; however, it is clearly an issue in some areas.
We recognise that a simple water wash wil not remove bird waste in its entirety in one application; however, the combined effects of periodic washing with the effect of sunshine will remove it after a few cycles.
For those areas where bird roosting - and consequent waste accretion, is significant, we are investigating adding roosting deterrence features.
Pure water will wet the panel surface; however, panel surfaces are treated to shed water, so wetting is slow; this can waste water. The SolarClear® WA solution speeds up wetting and hence reduce water consumption. The solution has little detergency effect.
If industrial pollution is present, it will further resist wetting, and also make the dirt on the panel more "sticky" and resistant to washing. So additional detergency may be required.
Also, there may be areas where waste from flying flocks of birds is a problem.
We will be working with our chemical supplier to meet these needs in a way that does not damage the panel.
The existing system uses a microcontroller, an LCD display and control buttons for programming and status reporting.
For small-scale installations, we plan to develop WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity to allow programing and status monitoring from a web interface, and an Android and iOS app to allow it to be controlled from a smartphone.
We also recognise that in some cases, the available water supply may not provide suficient flow to allow washing the entire array; for these circumstances, we will be extending the capabiulity of the controller to controlo a multi-segment washing scheme, washing part of the array, then moving on to th next part of the array, and so on.
The initial plan was for a system affordable for small-scale solar, as most Australian installations are small: household, small business and small farm.
But larger systems are becoming more common, and are often installed in arid areas, with high solar intensity and few cloudy days. There areas are also subject to dust, and therefore to panel output reduction. The basic SolarClear® technology can be applied to these systems, but the control system will be more complex, and design work will be required, probably on a per-project basis.
In many locations for large solar installations, water is scarce. For these installations, we have started design work on a system to allow water recovery and collection. This will of course entail filtering to remove the dirt collected by the cleaning. Water consumption will be reduced to that level required to make up for evaporation losses only.
What other things could we use it for?