An Israeli startup is using robots to dry-clean solar panel arrays, reducing the need for manpower and saving substantial amounts of water.
Founded in 2013, Israeli startup Ecoppia has come up with a solution to a problem which affects most solar panel installations: dust, grit and other accretions. Solar panels need regular cleaning if they are to remain efficient. When solar panels are dirty they may lose up to 35% of their power generation capacity, says the company. Currently most solar photovoltaic power plant operators employ sizeable maintenance teams to wash and hose down the panel arrays using substantial amounts of water. This makes the arrays generally less environmentally-friendly, especially in arid zones where water is scarce, and renders the ‘green’ argument for solar power less tenable. This is exactly the dilemma that Ecoppia’s technology is designed to address. The firm has engineered robots which are programmed to clean photovoltaic panels using airflow and specially-developed brushes, thus helping to put the ‘green’ back into this major source of ‘green’ energy.
Both water and manpower cost savings
Ecoppia claims that its new approach removes of 99% of the dust on solar panels, while contributing substantially to water savings. The robot system avoids the need for water by using gravity to shake off excess dust, then airflow and special microfibre brushes to clean the surfaces. The robot runs on two 12-volt lead-acid batteries at night. Solar electricity is used to recharge the batteries during the day. After the robot completes its task, it returns to a docking station and uses rotational energy to get rid of the dust captured by the microfibres. The firm says that each robot can take care of hundreds of panels each night, depending on the size and configuration of the installation. The platform is cloud-based, so that instructions can be inputted from mobile devices, and power plant operators can control the robots remotely and receive feedback data on their performance and maintenance needs. Ecoppia’s technique can thus deliver major savings: less manpower is required, and no water is needed. Ecoppia generates its revenue by selling and installing the robots and providing maintenance and data analytics to the plant operator.
Ecoppia’s initial growth depended heavily on its close relationship with Israeli solar energy company Arava Power. Having proved that its system can deliver real resource and cost savings, the startup has now entered a period of rapid expansion. To date Ecoppia’s robots have cleaned around 4 million panels, about 500,000 panels per month, and hopes to bring the monthly total to 10 million by the end of 2015. It is now working towards entering the United States market next year with its solution for making green energy even greener by avoiding resource wastage. Nowadays many firms are looking to optimise green energy, a key area being the development of advanced electric storage batteries, and improve the environmental performance of ubiquitous power-consuming equipment, including moves to promote the recycling of electronic devices.