Enel Green Power has introduced a revolutionary concept – a novel robot designed to clean solar panels without relying on water. This innovation holds particular significance in arid and dry regions where water resources are scarce and dust accumulation is a common issue.
“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.
“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.”
Traditionally, the cleaning of solar panels has involved methods like pressure washers or tractors equipped with hydraulic brushes. However, these approaches have notable drawbacks, including substantial water consumption and the emission of environmentally harmful gases.
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.”
Recognizing these challenges, Enel Green Power collaborated with REIWA, a startup specializing in robotic technology solutions, to develop SandStorm – an advanced cleaning robot.
What sets SandStorm apart is its ability to adapt to the irregular positioning of solar panel trackers. It navigates autonomously between rows of panels, covering considerable distances exceeding 50 cm, while effectively cleaning the surfaces it encounters. Notably, SandStorm emerged victorious in a challenge initiated by Enel Green Power through the Enel Open Innovability platform.
Following its success, SandStorm underwent rigorous testing. It was initially trialed in the EGP Innovation Lab at Passo Martino in Catania, Italy, before transitioning to an industrial-scale test in a 1-megawatt section of the Enel Green Power plant located in Totana, Spain.
The technology’s practicality and efficiency have been validated, resulting in an initial contract for the deployment of approximately 150 SandStorm robots across two Spanish photovoltaic plants – Totana and Las Corchas. This deployment is expected to contribute significantly to the generation of clean energy, with a combined capacity of 135 megawatts. Enel Green Power’s innovative collaboration with REIWA has paved the way for a sustainable and effective solution to solar panel maintenance, underscoring the potential for advanced technology to revolutionize renewable energy practices.
“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!