This new robot cleans solar panels without using any water

It reduces water wastage and carbon emissions.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Enel's new solar panel cleaner..jpg
Enel's new solar panel cleaner.

Enel Green Power 

Enel Green Power has conceived of a new robot that can clean solar panels without using any water. This comes especially handy in dry and arid regions where water is scarce and dust is high.

“When it comes to photovoltaics, dust is the enemy. This is not a trivial concept, even if it may seem so at first glance; actually, the problem of soiling – the accumulation of dust, dirt or sand on PV panels – can decrease, sometimes significantly, the performance of solar power systems,” stated an Enel Green Power press release published on Friday.

Desert areas

“It’s an issue that’s particularly important in desert areas, areas with low rainfall, and those characterized by the presence of very dusty soil, where soiling can have a heavy impact on energy yield, but in any case, it’s something that concerns solar power everywhere, because regardless of location, cleaning the panels still involves costs, including environmental ones.”

The firm highlights how traditional approaches to solar panel cleaning employ pressure washers or tractors equipped with hydraulic brushes, solutions that entail severe water consumption and produce significant gas emissions.

That’s why Enel Green Power worked with REIWA, a Sicilian startup already active in the study and development of robotic technology solutions, to engineer SandStorm, an “advanced cleaning robot that uses a system of specially designed and manufactured brushes, but most importantly, capable of moving along the rows of panels autonomously and recharging autonomously, returning to its docking station at the end of its task.”

Uneven alignment

SandStorm is uniquely constructed to adapt to the uneven alignment of the solar panel trackers, moving autonomously from one row of panels to the next, traveling distances greater than 50 cm, all while cleaning the surfaces it encounters.

SandStorm most notably won a challenge launched by Enel Green Power through the Enel Open Innovability platform. The system was then successfully trialed first in the EGP Innovation Lab at Passo Martino (Catania) and then on an industrial scale in a section (1-MW) of the Enel Green Power plant in Totana (Spain).

The technology has already secured an initial contract for the implementation of around 150 robots in two Spanish PV plants, Totana and Las Corchas, for a total capacity of 135 MW. 

“So the SandStorm case has turned out to be a success story, with all the right ingredients: a collaboration between complementary businesses; reduced costs and increased renewable production; the development of an efficient, competitive made-in-Sicily technology; the activation of a real industrial supply chain; and, most importantly, the reduction of environmental impacts,” wrote Enel Green Power in its conclusion.

“Because it's important to be green, but it’s even more so to be green in a sustainable way.” Well said! Well said indeed!

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