From EGP Innovation: The Robot that “Cleans” the Sun

Published on Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Why is sand so dangerous?

Because of the so-called soiling impact. Because of the dirt, solar radiation is not detected by the panel, which then fails to generate the right amount of energy. Plus, the partial shadow of some areas for long periods of time can cause breakdowns and malfunctions. Each geographic area presents different issues, and many depend on the weather and microclimate conditions of the environment where the plant is located. So coming to a completely automated solution for the cleaning of modules offers numerous advantages.

For example?

First of all, considerable recovery of energy produced by the panel, but also a precise programmability for O&M operations in the plants, as well as remote management that allows us to use the robots at any time and in any weather condition. Because they are programmable, the robots allow for a reduction of soiling impact by near to 90-100%. Furthermore, in addition to being very flexible, these machines are set up directly on the panel arrays: this prevents them from obstructing the spaces of the plant itself, like a worker or a cleaning vehicle would. Remember that every robot is completely stand-alone.

What does that mean?

That it functions completely independently. The robots are self-powered by batteries and photovoltaic panels, but above all, they don’t require water. This is crucial in desert areas, where water is scarce and where local governments apply severe restrictions on it.

Are further developments expected for the improvement of photovoltaic plan efficiency?

The robots’ constant work on the plants will allow us to gather very useful data, not only for improving their efficiency but also for broadening their activities. We imagine implementing sensors for more simplified monitoring operations. And in the future, we could have robots that clean panels while at the same time carrying out a “scan” to check the plant’s health status.

How are the initial experiments going?

We are working on pilot projects at our photovoltaic plain in Adrano, province of Catania, the historical site where Enel built the first concentrating solar plant in the world in 1981. In the Passo Martino Solar Lab, we are proceeding with more innovation tests. By March, we expect to have machines already in operation.

After the tests in Italy, which countries with the robot “work” in?

We’ll start with Chile, specifically in the plants of Finis Terrae (160 MW) and Chañares (40 MW), which are located in the region of Atacama, one of the most arid parts of the world. They will be two very difficult testing areas, but we know that the PV cleaning robot will not let us down.