Deserts are an ideal place to operate solar farms, as there’s plentiful sunshine and open spaces. However, with a lack of rainfall and a lot of dust, it can be hard to keep the solar panels clean, resulting in a 7 – 40% reduction it’s effectiveness. It can be time consuming and expensive to clean them manually, therefore robots have been developed to do this job. These robots were created by Ecoppia, a company that was founded last year in Israel. The robots are solar-powered and travel vertically and horizontally across the solar panels using microfiber buffers to clean them. They’re in action every night for approximately an hour and can even be controlled through smart phones.
Eran Mellar, the CEO of Ecoppia believes the robots can work in any kind of environment and is ready to expand globally, cleaning about 5 million solar panels a month by early 2015. “As we say, if you can make it in the Middle East, you can make it anywhere. We started with probably the most challenging site on the planet” said Mellar, pointing to dust storms from Saudia Arabia and Jordan that plague the Ketura array.
What would be interesting to know, is how effective these robots actually are at cleaning? It’s hard to imagine how well they can clean without the use of water. Also, how often will someone physically come and inspect the solar panels and see if any further maintenance needs to take place? Robots and technology are becoming more popular in replacing workers at simple jobs, but it would be a better idea if solar panel-cleaning can provide jobs to real people, especially to the poorer families who live in the desert where there is no work available. That way, not only are they providing better lives for families, but the panels would be guaranteed to be cleaned well and manually inspected, increasing its lifetime.