A team of researchers from the University of Toledo is in the running as a finalist for hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding from the U.S. Energy Department’s “American-Made Solar Prize” initiative.
If successful, the project could unlock solar power in areas of the country where heavy snowfall affects a home’s efficiency.
Sun-blocking snow cover results in 1% to 12% of solar energy losses each year. If the snowfall is heavy and long-lasting, it could negate power production for an entire month, according to Sandia National Laboratories.
The team of UT researchers’ answer is called Snow-Free Solar.
The idea involves a durable strip of material being placed on the “lower edge of solar panels to help shed snow,” according to an Energy Department description of the concept.
“This is something we’ve been working on for a while,” Hossein Sojoudi, who is leading the research team, told The Blade. He didn’t provide a lot of technical specs in that report because of the ongoing competition for funding.
The video shows a person scraping snow off a panel system with a long pole.
The UT team’s solution is a thin strip of material — it looks about the size of a strip of masking tape — applied to a panel’s bottom edge. Sojoudi said it doesn’t interfere with solar power generation.
The clip shows two groups of panels, one with the Snow-Free material and one without. The snow slides off the panels with the strip but stays on the control group.
The American-Made Solar Prize, a multimillion-dollar innovation contest in the solar sector, encourages quick progress and the fruition of ideas, according to the competition’s website.
The Snow-Free project is one of several that UT has in progress in the solar sector. Researchers are also working with the U.S. Air Force on flexible photovoltaic energy sheets geared to “take advantage of the 37% stronger sunlight above the atmosphere.”
As for the Snow-Free work, researchers will be leveraging as much funding from the Energy Department’s competition as they can win. The program has already provided more than $15 million to unique solar projects since 2018, according to The Blade. The UT team members will find out if they won a half-million dollars more in September.
A Snow-Free future for solar panels would be welcome news to many who are already tapping the sun’s power. It could also open up new opportunities in America’s snow belts.
“I am a [homeowner] in Utah with only 48 total panels … I would be interested in trying,” a YouTube viewer commented on Sojoudi’s video.
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