Solar panels must be regularly cleaned and maintained in order to keep them operating efficiently and maximize the amount of sunlight they convert into electricity. With this in mind, a group of students from CalTech and UCLA have developed an impressive robot that cleans solar panels. The design won a third of $200,000 in prize money in the DOE’s National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition.
Using soft rotating brushes and squeegees, the lightweight robot is designed to cover two average-sized solar panels at a time. As it moves sideways along the rows of panels, it uses a small amount of water to clean them. The robot is easily controlled by two operators who simply place it at the beginning of a standard ground-mounted solar array. The on-board computer then coordinates the robot, while an operator monitors the cleaning progress and issues commands. (Click here to see the robot in action.)
The team believes that the robot can improve electrical generation in utility-scale solar projects by up to 15 percent, though the figures on how much water and how long the cleaning process takes haven’t been confirmed yet. Still, any system that can improve the efficiency of solar panels is a winner in our books.