Keeping panels clear of dust in large solar farms can be a time-consuming, wasteful and costly business. A Sicilian technology startup called the Reiwa Engine has developed an autonomous robot called SandStorm to reduce maintenance and cleaning costs by as much as 80%.
Dust, dirt or sand that settles on the surface of solar panels can significantly reduce their efficiency. Personnel at solar farms can restore full yield using power washers or drive tractors down the rows of panels while hydraulic brushes sweep away the dirt, but precious water resources are wasted and vehicle operation causes emissions, plus there are labor and fuel costs to factor in as well.
A couple of years ago, Enel Green Power (EGP) began testing the first robot from the Reiwa Engine at the energy company’s Innovation Lab at Passo Martino in Sicily.
The SandStorm cleaning bot clears away dust and debris as it moves autonomously along a row of panels, using brushes instead of water, and is able to adapt to uneven panel alignment as well as cross gaps of more than 50 cm (19.6 in).
The motor-driven cleaner returns to its docking station when its batteries run low, or at the end of its shift. It can also operate during the night to avoid shading the panels during productive hours.
Trials then moved to a 1-MW section of a power plant at Totana in Spain, and EGP is now planning to roll out 150 SandStorm robots at solar farms in Totana and Las Corchas, representing a total capacity of 135 MW, with financing from Cycero allowing Reiwa to enter full production to meet service volumes.
The partnership has also recently tested a transport robot at its facility in Pass Martino that makes it possible for SandStorm cleaners to move between rows of panels – “reducing the number of robots required for each plant, and as a result, the operational complexity and the initial investment as well.”
Sources: EGP, Reiwa
This post originally appeared on TechToday.