Even in a low cost country like India, at Solar Mango we continue getting enquiries on automating O&M for solar power plants. Well, having done the math, our team is not entirely convinced that Indian solar power plants need highly automated O&M – perhaps what is optimal for our country is a mix of manual and automated maintenance.

At the same time, it is indeed interesting to note the advances that are happening in O&M technology. In this context, it was nice to read a news article on Ecoppia, which has developed waterless robot cleaning technology

The news was about the Israel-based automated solar solutions provider Ecoppia has signed a deal to retrofit a 40 MW solar plant in Israel with its robotic cleaning technology. The plant, which is jointly owned by Israel-based solar developer Arava Power and EDF Energies Nouvelles Israel, was commissioned in July 2015

Dirt and dust covering solar panels, which is also known as soiling, is a significant challenge to PV project operators, especially in desert regions. Such soiling can decrease a plant’s energy output by up to 40%.

Traditional cleaning methods include large amounts of labour using water and brushes, with water again being a scarce commodity particularly in desert environments. However, Ecoppia’s robot cleaners are fixed permanently to rails on an array. Powered by their own solar panels, using neither water nor labour, the robots clean automatically each night. Dust sticking to the panel is considerably reduced and output kept high. Automisation also negates problems with predicting dust storms.

The robots do not touch the panel, except for gentle microfibres that do the cleaning, which minimises any potential for damage. In this context, German testing house, PI Berlin, undertook a study, which found that some automated cleaning solutions have the potential to damage module performance.

Interesting news indeed. As I mentioned earlier, while automated cleaning of panels is not the right solution for all solar farms and for all countries, it might be a technology worth exploring for select solar power plants.