Parabolic trough and power tower technologies provide inherent advantage of thermal energy storage and high efficiency of the Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) systems for utility scale solar plants. High efficiency CSP power generation with minimal water use is one of the SunShot goals of the US Department of Energy. The specular reflectance efficiency of the solar mirrors plays a critical role in the efficiency of power generation. The optical surface of the mirrors and the receiver must be kept clean for efficient operation of the plant. Some environmental challenges in operating the large-scale CSP plants at high reflectance efficiency arise from high concentration of atmospheric dust, wind speed and variation of relative humidity (RH) over a wide range. Deposited dust and other contaminant particles, such as soot, salt, and organic particulate matters attenuate solar radiation by scattering and absorption. Adhesion of these particles on the mirror surface depends strongly by their composition and the moisture content in the atmosphere. Presence of soluble inorganic and organic salts cause corrosion of the mirror unless the contaminants are cleaned frequently.
In this paper, we briefly review (1) source of atmospheric dust and mechanisms involved in degradation of mirrors caused by salt particles, (2) loss of specular reflection efficiency as a function of particle size distribution and composition, and (3) an emerging technology for removing dust layer by using thin transparent electrodynamic screen (EDS). Feasibility of integration of EDS on the front surface of the solar collectors has been established to provide active self-cleaning properties for parabolic trough and heliostat reflectors.
Prototype EDS-integrated solar collectors including second-surface glass mirrors, metallized acrylic film mirrors, and dielectric mirrors, were produced and tested in an environmental test chambers simulating desert atmospheres. The test results show that frequent removal of dust layer can maintain the specular reflectivity of the mirrors above 90% under dust deposition at a rate ranging from 0 to 10 g/m2, with particle size varying from 1 to 50 μm in diameter. The energy required for removing the dust layer from the solar was less than 10 Wh/m2 per cleaning cycle. EDS based cleaning could therefore be automated and performed as frequently as needed to maintain reflection efficiency above 90% and thus reducing water usage for cleaning mirrors in the solar field. A comparative cost analysis was performed between EDS and deluge water based cleaning that shows the EDS method is commercially viable and would meet water conservation needs.