solar panel cleaning
Image credit: Iberdrola

How do you keep 1,430,000 solar photovoltaic panels clean while streamlining the use of water? With the help of innovative dry-cleaning solutions, of course.

Perfecting the cleaning regime for each site is one of the challenges facing Spanish renewable energy company, Iberdrola, following the completion of Europe’s biggest solar power plant, the 500MW Núñez de Balboa project in southern Spain.

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With a global solar power pipeline of up to 30,000MW, and almost 2,900MW under construction, Iberdrola, through its international startup programme Perseo, launched a worldwide challenge to find disruptive ways to keep panels clean through innovation, and allow for maximum production of power.

Cleanliness and efficiency are inextricably linked when it comes to generating electricity from the sun. A Duke University study estimates that power production of solar panels is significantly reduced by dust and dirt, particularly in certain parts of the world.

Before and after cleaning, courtesy Iberdrola

The tech world responded to Iberdrola’s challenge, and over 70 proposals were submitted from 25 countries.

The competition criteria asked for technologies that could deliver a dry cleaning solution, at a low cost, while also being portable, allowing for transportable between rows of panels and even between different project sites.

Proposals received where classified by area and four technologies have been selected for further trials.

  • SolarCleano – Luxembourg, (single-row robot cleaning solution) – Modular cleaning robots fitted with brushes for wet or dry solar panel cleaning.
  • SCM Solar – Zaragoza, Spain (multi-row robot cleaning solution) – The selected robot is a semi-automatic robot for dry cleaning which has the advantage of not requiring any previous installation whilst operating at a cleaning speed of 20 m/s.
  • Moresun – Houston, USA, (protective coating solution) – A proprietary solar coating and application system that adds an anti-reflective (AR) and anti-soiling (AS) silica shield to any solar array.
  • Kipp & Zonen – Delft, Netherlands (soiling sensor) – The dirt monitoring system for PV panels gather real data on soiling, making it possible to differentiate between production losses attributable to dirt and to other factors.

All the technologies will have a trial at the Núñez de Balboa site. Iberdrola will bear the costs and provide technical support to test the solutions, providing access to high-tech equipment, teams, infrastructure and sites, as well as co-working areas.

If the pilot projects are successful, there will be an opportunity to become an official global supplier to Iberdrola, with the potential of investment for the companies as well.

Iberdrola will analyze the profitability of using each cleaning solution for each project. Projects located in very dry areas will be more prone to require frequent cleaning to increase its profitability.

On the other hand in high rainfall and less sandy regions, it may not be economically feasible to invest in this type of cleaning device.
Further information on the winners:

Iberdrola’s PERSEO International Startup Programme received €70m ($80m) in funding and is aimed at facilitating the group’s access to the technologies of the future and promoting the creation and development of a global and dynamic ecosystem of technology companies and entrepreneurs of the electricity sector.

Additional information on the PERSEO Start-up Challenges is available online.