The increasing consumption of electricity, due to rise in population and limited availability of natural resources, countries have been focusing on generating energy from alternative sources. Sun energy in one among them and is widely preferreddue to its long hours availability at no cost at all. Though its conversion technology involves crystalline panels and other components, the panels require a regular look after to sustain effectively for years and decades.
The large capacity solar plants consisting huge number of these panels suffer some difficulty in smooth operations as dust, sand or other particles cover the surface area which results in lower generation of power from panels. This problem requires regular cleaning of panel plates with use of cleansing material. The cleaning process is not a cup of tea as it demands manpower, material and time to clean the panel plates which is very difficult for the integrator to maintain for years.
Large capacity solar power plants are located in arid and dry area with maximum sunshine to churn maximum benefits from sun energy, but in such areas, frequent dust storms and sand particle and high wind waves tend to cover the surface of solar panels, which leads to lower performance.
Tokyo based Sinfonia Technology Co. Ltd came up with an effective alternative of traditional cleaning methods and introduced ‘Automatic Robots’ for the purpose of cleaning solar power panels.
The robot is equipped with cleansing material, advance camera and sensors to operate flawlessly. It also has water storage tank which provides water needed for cleaning process. It was a good initiative as it provided solution to a tediousjob, but it had certain limits in the areas where water was not readily available. In those areas, the robot was not very effective.
Further, to overcome the limitation, Eccopia, an Israel based company designed and introduced a robotic cleaning process for the Ketura Sun Solar Park and named it E4. The USP of this robot was its non-dependency on water for cleaning process.
The ‘E4’ probably getting the alphabet from its company’s name, uses microfibers and air flow to clean the solar panels.
During the night hours, approx. 100 numbers of E4 robots, controlled from central tower, activate here cleaning process to remove the dust particles from the panel surface. The robots are mounted on aluminium frame to reduce weight on the panels, avoiding any damage possibility, and are driven on wheels coated with polyurethane eliminating any short of moving load on solar panels and thus saving it from any risk of surface glass breakage. The robots employ gravitation to push the sand particles off the panels using controlled air jet.
The E4 was designed keeping in mind that the ‘Ketura Sun Solar Park’ is located amidst Negev Desert, where the availability of water is very limited and getting water for such huge and regular cleaning is a challenge. During day time, when the robots are not engaged in cleaning activities, the robotsare placed outside the solar PV row to recharge their batteries using the electricity generated from solar panels. These automatic robots can also be controlled from a remote dashboard or mobile app, which makes them easily operatable from a distance or a centrally located tower.
Before employing these high tech robots for the cleaning process, the Ketura Sun’s solar panels were cleaned only nine times in a year, which had serious impact on its performance and cost. Additionally, the traditional cleaning process was expensive, required water and was also labour intensive and took around 5 days to clean for one time. During the cleaning process, plant operations were badly disturbed, which caused the company to lose in performance and money both.Moreover, as the panels were less frequently cleaned, the power production from the solar plates also suffered due to accumulation of sand, dust or bird droppings on the glass surface of photovoltaic panels.
Companies, involved in solar business, look for cost effective and faster solutions, which make it easy to keep the panels clean. I am sure, such technological advancements are the renewable energy space will keep coming and I will keep you posted with new and latest information on the same.