With abundant sunlight and plenty of open space, deserts are an obvious place to put large solar arrays, but there’s a downside: lots of dust, and not enough rainfall to wash it off. A buildup on solar panels can reduce efficiency by anywhere from 7 to 40 percent, according to various research efforts. Cleaning them takes manpower and usually water, which raises costs. Now a handful of startups are aiming to do for the solar industry what the Roomba has done for people who hate vacuuming: Turn the job over to robots.

Ecoppia, a company founded last year in Israel, has been operating nearly 100 of its panel-cleaning robots at the Ketura Sun solar array in Israel’s Negev desert. Using microfiber buffers that also generate air flow to move dust off the panel surface, the system’s robots travel across solar panels vertically and horizontally every night for about an hour and a half, running on power from their own solar panels (and what, you might ask, cleans the solar panel that runs the robot? The robot does that one too). The system can be managed remotely, even on a smartphone.

CEO Eran Meller said that the company is expanding with an eye to markets including Middle East, India, and Latin America and will be cleaning 5 million panels a month by early next year. “As we say, if you can make it in the Middle East, you can make it anywhere. We started with probably the most probably the most challenging site on the planet.” Meller said, pointing to dust storms from Saudia Arabia and Jordan that plague the Ketura array.

According to Meller, a 300-megawatt solar plant might spend more than $5 million a year on cleaning and lose at least $3.6 million in energy production lost to dust cover. Meller said the costs of installing the Ecoppia system—around $11 million for a facility of that size, a bit more than what he estimates is lost each year with a conventional cleaning set-up—can be recovered within 18 months. Cleaning without water also translates to a savings of 110 million gallons (420 million liters) over 10 years, Meller said.

Other companies touting robot-cleaning solutions include Mirakikai in Japan, Solarbrush in England, and Greenbiotics, which was acquired by U.S. solar developer SunPower last year.

You can see the Ecoppia robots in action below:

Comments

  1. Swati
    Adelaide
    July 2, 2015, 2:46 am

    Choose our professional cleaning services in Adelaide ,which includes pressure cleaning and outdoor cleaning services.

  2. BTelis
    Greece
    November 19, 2014, 7:30 am

    Paul, you are so right….
    Middle East, India, and Latin America are counties with very low salaries..
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  3. Paul Croskrey
    United States
    November 12, 2014, 12:21 pm

    Solar Panel Cleaning Robots,….
    Are they really such a good idea?

    As a professional in solar panels maintenance, I have seen personally how these robots work. The first thing that comes to my mind when I see them operating is how they take away jobs. Yes jobs…$11, 000,000 could pay for a lot of jobs. The second thing I KNOW is solar panel cleaning robots do not do a very good job when it comes to dirty solar panels. They just relocate the dust they kick off. When solar panels get dirty from dew and dust these water-less solar panels cleaning robots just do not work….
    The forth issue that I know is these types of solar panels cleaning robots can actually remove the protective non reflective coating that is applied on solar panels that helps the sunlight not reflect off the panels. The removal of this coating will diminish the efficiency of the panels.

    The biggest issue with robots is the lack of a complete inspection of the solar asset. When workers physically wash the panels they are visually inspected for damage. Hot spots, broken surfaces, even bullet holes not to mention the occasional bird excrement that must be removed.
    Improperly maintained solar systems will degrade and eventually stop working. The physical inspection and physical cleaning of solar panels systems by human workers insures long lasting solar asset. Besides whats more important putting a robot to work or feeding families.

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