Students lead revolutionary invention in solar energy

Algerian students have successfully invented a revolutionary process in the exploitation of renewable energy.

The breakthrough would allow the exploitation of solar energy at a low cost. For a country such as Algeria, which benefits from one of the highest rates of sunshine in the world, this new process will allow the resumption of many projects in this sector which had been put on the back burner because of the higher costs linked to the use of solar energy and, more specifically, the maintenance of solar panels.

Students from the Université Djillali Liabes, in Sidi Bel Abbes, located 500km west of Algiers, have made a breakthrough in the technology for photovoltaic solar energy production.

It has been difficult to find a place for solar energy on the international market because of the costs involved with cleaning the photovoltaic panels that require humans to clean them – and a lot of water.

The Algerian example illustrates the problem. The country has major assets that make it a huge reserve of solar energy that could supply the whole European continent with electricity, which is why an ambitious Euro-Algerian project has often been debated and negotiated – before being shelved.

The German ‘Desertec’ project, for instance, still has not seen the light of day after 20 years because of the exorbitant costs linked to its development.

Algeria took an interest from the start, believing this kind of project would allow it to forego fossil fuels for producing electric energy, as well as allow it to export large amounts of it to Europe, which has always run into difficulties over the costs linked to this technology.

This illustrates the difficulties associated with rationally exploiting, with manageable costs, a renewable energy that everybody needs.

Technology transfer is the next step

So the government has opted for a less costly strategy by launching the ‘Solar 1,000 Megawatts’ project, which aims to go slowly but surely down the path of solar energy by relying on local and foreign investors.

Professor Amar Tilmatine, the team leader, with Nezha Kadous, Yassine Bellebna and Khelifa Yanallah, students in the University of Djillali Liabes’ electrical engineering department, were working on an air blower and realised, by chance, that they could apply this process to solar panels.

The idea was developed in the laboratory of applied plasma, electronics and electromagnetic compatibility. The result was a self-cleaning system for the panels.

It is important to note that regular cleaning of panels is crucial to guarantee their greatest durability and effectiveness. Until now, maintenance has used a lot of energy and is very expensive.

This Algerian invention, which has been hailed as revolutionary by the specialised website, enables panels to be cleaned using energy from an LED lamp and without human intervention.

This technology could, in the future, be integrated into solar panels, making them self-cleaning and leading to greater efficiency and huge savings in both energy and human intervention.

In order to protect its invention, the lab has registered it with the INAPI, the Algerian Intellectual Property Institute, and with the World Intellectual Property Organization.

The next step will be to find a company able to integrate this process into the manufacturing of solar panels.

This should not be problematic as the process could change the way the exploitation of solar energy is perceived and, at the same time, accelerate the much-needed transition to renewable energies.

This article was translated from the French by Jane Marshall.