Robotic cleaning of solar modules is gaining traction in India | Daily News Byte

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Since the country is a huge land mass, endowed with a huge solar capacity of approx. 300 sunny days every year, India has realized the potential of solar energy. Today, in its march towards sustainable development, India is striving to accelerate the full potential of clean and cost-effective solar energy to meet all its energy needs.

However, it faces countless challenges, the most difficult of which is the need for vast amounts of water, which is a scarce resource, to clean the solar panels. As dust accumulates on the surface of the PV module, the ability to produce electricity is limited.

To avoid generation loss, these plates should be cleaned regularly. Traditionally, cleaning solar panels required a large amount of water (a 1MW solar power plant required an average of 150,000 liters of water per year). In a country where clean water is a luxury and water scarcity is a concern, overuse to clean solar panels is causing concern.

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DKI Bureau | DATAQUEST Robotic cleaning of solar panels.

Because of this challenge, the industry wants to switch from conventional cleaning methods to a more efficient solution with less water such as dry cleaning or robotic cleaning. India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) reported an increase in water consumption that they concluded was the result of solar panel cleaning. Following the discovery, it was recommended that operators switch to more efficient water use and/or switch to robotic cleaning technology.

Advantages of robotic solar cleaning
India aims to generate 300 GW of solar power by 2030, so the switch to robotic cleaning must be a given, otherwise it will lead to massive water wastage. Moreover, farm owners require approval from authorities to use groundwater for cleaning, which is time-consuming and can cause delays in installation.

Also, the issuance of the permit will be based on the state/zone where the facility is located. Robotic solar cleaning offers a revolutionary water-free solution for removing dust from panels. So that is the solution that India requires today to increase the penetration of solar power plants while reducing reliance on water.

The growth of the solar energy market is fast and the efficiency of photovoltaic modules will play a vital role in the scalability of their use in commercial, industrial or utility projects. Solar PV panel cleaning robots help improve the efficiency of solar panel cleaning without endangering human life. If the use of robotic cleaning increases in the industry, and this grows in line with the increase in the size of solar power plants in India, it could be a game changer.

Another big advantage of robotic cleaning is that it requires less human intervention, which has worried solar players because of the risk to life of people involved in manual washing. Also, robotic systems work effectively in environmental conditions where water scarcity is a real concern, like in states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, etc. It is the only solution that will ensure panel reliability and energy production.

A wonderful added benefit is that robotic cleaning allows real-time performance monitoring through a centralized management system. The robots send alerts to the control room operating system to communicate any problems, the alert then triggers a change in cleaning motion on the panels. Using robots also allows operators to change the cleaning schedule by moving them from one table to the next farm.

Thanks to these advantages, robotic panel cleaning is attracting the attention of farm owners and India is witnessing a much-needed change.

Robotic infrastructure in India
Currently, in India, fully automatic dry cleaning, robotic and semi-automatic (selectable and set-up) robotic cleaning methods are on the rise and are replacing manual types.

In order to incorporate a fully automatic dry cleaning robot, it should be considered at the design stage of the solar facility where the array layout design is underway. Early consideration means that the tool can optimize the number of cleaning robots needed and that all MMS design requirements can be incorporated from the start.

This solution is waterless and an economical way of cleaning compared to wet cleaning, and can even produce more energy production thanks to the reduction in soiling loss.

Semi-automatic cleaning includes both robots and manual work. This type of cleaning is transferred manually from one table to another which reduces costs compared to fixed robots where you need multiple robots for each row of PV tables.

This type of bot helps developers increase their ROI because it reduces the two main cost contributors to running and maintaining plants when they are online, namely water and labor. Any reduction in these can reduce overall plant operating costs as well as limit risk exposure.

The choice of a pick and place robot is evaluated based on the type of cleaning material (cloth or microfiber brush), the weight of the robot, the average speed of cleaning one table, the flexibility to adjust the motor speed, the robot’s battery backup, the battery charging time and the warranty and the service provided by the OEM robot.

The most effective method is the “fully automatic cleaning robot”, the use of this robot accelerated in 2019 when India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy expressed concern about the excessive use of water to clean solar panels and advised developers and operators. to switch to robotic cleaning. Since then, India has been taking concrete steps to rapidly embrace the technology.

As far as robotic cleaning infrastructure is concerned, it is in its nascent stage in India but is steadily growing in maturity. In order to fully implement this technology, huge investments are needed. But the main challenge that India faces is the misunderstanding of technology. It is assumed that this will reduce employment opportunities in the segment, which is not true. Instead, a trained workforce will be required to manage operations and monitor.

This will also be an opportunity for local workers to learn new skills and enter a new area of ​​technology, improving their knowledge and vision towards a new segment of the industry.

Future Prospects for Robotic Cleaning in India
To increase the solar footprint, developers are aggressively leaning towards developing large solar power plants with millions of PV modules installed. This gives traction to developers to look for a different method to optimize the cleaning of PV modules with a defined cycle per year. Solutions like robotic cleaning are a hot topic right now and are known to deliver the desired result.

This gives opportunity and fast pace to the robotics market for innovation. As an industry, we must constantly challenge our current ways, think differently, think of a new approach or a new technique to optimize our processes, decarbonize our operations and reduce our environmental impact.

Fortunately, both local governments and developers are open to innovation, adopting new technologies, and implementing cost-effective and safe methods to increase solar energy production. This makes the path for robotic cleaning in India smooth and clear. The technology will gain more strength in the months and we hope to see new technologies in the field of robots, which will set the benchmark in the approach to cleaning PV modules.

— Sandeep Jadhav, Director, Operations and Maintenance, ENGIE India.

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