Soiling, or the accumulation of dust or dirt on solar panel surfaces, dramatically reduces solar energy output. An Israeli company with cleaning robots has come to change that.
Solar power is one of the most cost effective, energy efficient and environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional energy sources. This is especially the case in harsh desert environments where a solar park can easily be used to harness the sun’s energy.
But if there is soiling, or the accumulation of dust or dirt on solar panel surfaces, this reduces energy output by up to 35 percent. Traditionally, water is used to clean solar panels, but this can prove to be costly and environmentally damaging. Ecoppia, an Israel-based startup, is tackling this issue with their robotic solar cleaning solution, the Ecoppia E4 Robot.
Here, you can see the robot in action:
Automatic, water-free cleaning
Founded in 2013 by Eran Meller and Moshe Meller, Ecoppia is the only company offering an affordable, water-free cleaning solution that’s so efficient it removes 99 percent of the dust from solar panels. The Ecoppia cleaning robots rely on controlled airflow to delicately but efficiently remove dust particles even in the harshest desert environment. The robots are designed to automate as much of the cleaning process as possible, and can be controlled and monitored from the Ecoppia dashboard or app. They are also self-charging, with each E4 Robot having its own dedicated solar panel.
The Ecoppia E4 Robot is being used commercially and has been successfully implemented in the Ketura Sun Solar Plant, in Southern Israel. This is a 5MW solar plant and the first commercial solar field in the Middle East. About 100 Ecoppia cleaning robots are in operation at the Ketura solar plant. The solution is also being implemented in five other plants, and Ecoppia estimates that by Q1 2015, they’ll be cleaning 5 million solar panels monthly.
Maximizing value creation
Part of the appeal of the Ecoppia solution is that it helps maximize value creation for solar parks. The solution is designed to boost solar energy output while reducing operational and maintenance costs. For example, Ecoppia estimates that implementing their solution for a 100 MW solar plant with 600 solar rows and 10 annual cleanings (at a price between $0.15-0.20 per kWh), the annual value creation would be about $3.77 million.
At present, Ecoppia is the only solution of its kind, though it’s wonderfully reminiscent of another Israeli tech company that uses robots to clean things: iRobot.
Still, there is nothing else on the market which is both water-free and fully automated while also being filed proven and certified. The technology is fully patented with three granted patents and two additional patents pending. The solution has also been independently certified by the PI-Berlin Institute, which concluded that after 20 years of daily cleaning, there was no power degradation of the solar panels.
The robots are available for a fixed price per unit which includes installation. There is also an annual maintenance fee which covers everything from repair and connectivity to remote management tools. At this point, the costs seems to make the technology more of a B2B product rather than something that will be adopted by homeowners with solar panel roofs any time soon.
Interestingly, because of the reduced cost of cleaning and increased energy production, Ecoppia has proven that it’s possible to have a ROI after only 18 months. In plants where the robots are implemented from the onset, the ROI tends to be even shorter.
Ecoppia is privately owned and has the backing of three prominent VCs: Swarth Group, GlenRock and Gandyr. The company secured an undisclosed amount of Series B funding this summer. With its solid backing and impressive technology, it seems Ecoppia will play an integral role in making solar power greener.