SandStorm: A Sustainable Waterless Solar Panel Cleaning Robot

waterless solar panel cleaning

Photovoltaic (PV) systems or solar panels have been hailed as a clean and sustainable source of energy. However, they face a silent adversary – dust and soiling. Dust, dirt, or sand accumulation on PV panels can significantly reduce efficiency. This problem is particularly critical in arid regions, areas with low rainfall, and places with dusty soil, where soiling can severely impact energy yield. The conventional approach to cleaning PV panels involves pressure washers or tractors with hydraulic brushes, which consume water and emit greenhouse gases. In collaboration with REIWA, a Sicilian startup, Enel Green Power has introduced an innovative solution to this problem – SandStorm, an autonomous and sustainable robotic system for dry cleaning photovoltaic panels.

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Introducing SandStorm: The autonomous PV panel cleaner

Photovoltaics (PV) is a rapidly growing renewable energy technology that converts sunlight into electricity. However, the performance of PV panels can be significantly reduced by the accumulation of dust, dirt, and sand on their surfaces. This is known as soiling.

Traditional soiling removal methods, such as pressure washing and manual brushing, can be time-consuming, expensive, and environmentally unfriendly. Enel Green Power, a leading renewable energy company, has partnered with REIWA, a Sicilian startup, to address these challenges to develop SandStorm.

SandStorm is a pioneering solution for cleaning photovoltaic systems. It is an autonomous robotic system designed to clean PV panels efficiently without water. This innovation enhances the performance of solar power systems and promotes sustainability and cost-effectiveness.

How SandStorm works

SandStorm is a mobile robot that uses a system of specially designed and manufactured brushes to clean PV panels. The robot has sensors that allow it to navigate autonomously through rows of PV panels. SandStorm can also cross gaps between rows of panels up to 50 cm wide.

SandStorm is powered by batteries that are recharged at a docking station. The robot can operate for up to 8 hours on a single charge. SandStorm can also be programmed to operate at night when PV panels are not generating electricity.

Key features of SandStorm

Autonomy: SandStorm can autonomously navigate rows of solar panels and recharge itself. It can adapt to uneven panel alignment and traverse distances exceeding 50 cm, making it suitable for large solar parks.

Nighttime operation: SandStorm can clean solar panels during nighttime hours when unproductive. This avoids shading the panels, which can cause electrical imbalances and damage.

Safety: As a fully automated system, SandStorm eliminates the need for human intervention during cleaning, ensuring operator safety.

Plant efficiency: The robot can clean PV panels daily, minimising soiling and maximising plant efficiency.

Sustainability: SandStorm’s waterless operation and reduced energy consumption contribute to sustainability by eliminating water usage and associated CO2 emissions.

Workforce development: The deployment of SandStorm promotes the training of qualified personnel for on-site maintenance, creating specialised jobs in the renewable energy sector.

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Benefits of SandStorm

SandStorm offers several benefits over traditional soiling removal methods:

  • Autonomous operation: SandStorm can operate autonomously, reducing the need for human labour.
  • Sustainability: SandStorm does not use water or diesel, which reduces its environmental impact.
  • Efficiency: SandStorm can clean PV panels more efficiently than traditional methods.
  • Reduced costs: SandStorm can reduce the overall PV panel soiling removal cost.

The importance of clean solar panels

Soiling is a challenge that affects solar power generation worldwide. The deposition of dust and dirt on PV panels leads to reduced energy output. This issue is exacerbated in regions with adverse environmental conditions, such as deserts, low rainfall areas, and dusty terrain. Moreover, the cost of cleaning solar panels and the environmental impact of conventional cleaning methods, such as water consumption and emissions from motor vehicles, are major concerns. The need for a sustainable and efficient cleaning solution led Enel Green Power to collaborate with REIWA and develop SandStorm.

cleaning solar panels Australia

Success and scaling up

After winning a challenge launched by Enel Green Power through the Enel Open Innovability platform, SandStorm was successfully tested at the EGP Innovation Lab in Catania, Italy, and later implemented on an industrial scale at the Enel Green Power plant in Totana, Spain. The success of this innovative robotic system led to an initial contract for the deployment of approximately 150 robots across two Spanish PV plants, Totana and Las Corchas, with a combined capacity of 135 MW. The venture capital fund Cycero provided financing to support the full industrialisation of production, meeting the service volumes required by Enel Green Power.

A collaborative rover for enhanced efficiency

Technology never stands still. A collaborative rover has been tested at the EGP facility in Passo Martino to improve operational efficiency further. This autonomous robot on wheels facilitates the movement of SandStorm robots between rows of panels, reducing the number of robots required for each plant and, consequently, the initial investment and operational complexity.

solar panel cleaning

A sustainable success story

The SandStorm robot exemplifies the success of collaboration between complementary businesses. It offers multiple benefits, including reduced cleaning costs, increased renewable energy production, developing efficient technology in Sicily, and establishing a robust industrial supply chain. Most importantly, it significantly reduces the environmental impact associated with conventional cleaning methods.

The story of the SandStorm robot is a testament to the power of innovation in the renewable energy sector. It addresses the critical issue of soiling and provides a sustainable and cost-effective solution that contributes to a greener and cleaner future. Enel Green Power’s commitment to sustainability, coupled with the innovation and expertise of REIWA, showcases the potential for technology to create positive change in the renewable energy industry. The SandStorm robot proves that it’s not just important to be green; it’s essential to be green sustainably.


Source&Image: Enel Green Power Media

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