Award Date

August 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Engineering (MSE)


Civil and Environmental Engineering and Construction

First Committee Member

Jacimaria Batista

Second Committee Member

David James

Third Committee Member

Sajjad Ahmad

Fourth Committee Member

Monika Neda

Fifth Committee Member

Shubhra Bansal

Number of Pages



As the concern with global warming increases causing the need for CO2 reduction, renewable energy is of great interest as it has lower carbon footprint when compared to conventional sources (natural gas, coal, oil and nuclear). Solar energy has been drawing worldwide attention since it can transform sunlight directly into electricity with the use of photovoltaic (PV) cells. However, this technology has some drawbacks that need to be addressed including dust deposition on solar panels, also known as soiling. Soiling can decrease PV panel’s efficiency thereby resulting in less energy production. The soiling rates are very site specific and depend on the geographic location of the panels and the climate in that area. The solar panels can be cleaned naturally (by rainfall, snow or wind) or mechanically washed. This thesis addresses the impact of solar panel soiling and washing on the energy production of solar PV plants located at the UNLV campus.

The objectives of this project were (a) to evaluate whether rainfall alone, in the desert environment with low rainfall, is sufficient to clean up the solar panels, and, if possible, determine the minimum amount of rainfall necessary to clean up panels.; (b) to examine the efficiency loss caused by soiling using different methods of analyses and (c) to evaluate if panel washing is worthwhile given the cost and the efficiency gain that is obtained by washing. To calculate the efficiency of the panels, a model was developed to generate parameters that were not measured at the site. Panel efficiencies before and after rainfall events were compared to determine the minimum amount of rain necessary to clean the panels. It was found that at least 0.2 inches of rain was needed to partially restore clean-panel efficiency. In Las Vegas, the recurrence periods of different depths rainfall were calculated using data from the past 29 years. It was observed that the 50th percentile recurrence period of a rainfall event with depth of 0.2 inches or higher was approximately 52 days.

Student Union: -0.0044%/day, CBC-C: -0.00099%/day, and Dayton Hall: -0.0034%/day

The amount of efficiency lost during the dry intervals (periods between rainfall events) was analyzed in three different ways. The average efficiency loss per day during the dry periods varied from -0.000171 % to -0.00533 %, depending on the method used and the building where the panels were located. However, there were some limitations to the calculations. It was not possible to completely isolate the effects of only soiling on the efficiency of the panels. The rate of decline seemed to be also impacted by seasonal effects.

To better evaluate the effect of washing, a professional company was hired to wash a set of solar panels located on UNLV’s Student Union building. The panels were washed with water with a low concentration of TDS. The power output and the efficiency of those panels were analyzed from before and after the washing. There was a very small efficiency and power increase due to the washing. Therefore, it was concluded that washing in this area is not worthwhile, and that rainfall events in excess of 0.2 inches can adequately restore the efficiency of the panels. If there is a change in cost of energy, washing, water or a great increase in the efficiency of the solar panels, it would be necessary to reevaluate the analysis.


Energy; Photovoltaic; PV Panels; Rainfall; Solar Energy; Solar Panels


Engineering | Environmental Engineering

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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