Enel, Reiwa develop robotic waterless cleaning for solar plants

Italy-based Enel Green Power continues to fuel the evolution of the renewable energy industry through its latest partnership with Sicilian tech start-up REIWA. The collaboration has further perfected the autonomous, sustainable robotic solution SandStorm for cleaning solar panels. It is regarded as a pioneering step that is set to redefine solar panel maintenance and advance sustainability.

As is known to all, proper maintenance and cleanliness of solar panels are crucial to maximize energy production. The accumulation of dust, dirt or sand on solar panels can considerably reduce the operational efficiency of solar power systems, notably in dry and dusty environments. However, traditional cleaning procedures, which are marked by high water usage and gas emissions from the motor vehicles involved, present substantial environmental challenges.

SandStorm Waterless Solar Panel Cleaning Robot
Image: Enel Green Power

SandStorm is furnished with meticulously engineered brushes and can traverse the panel arrays, even those installed on solar trackers, autonomously, performing thorough and economical cleaning.

An exceptional feature of SandStorm is its ability to operate during non-productive hours, thus evading shading issues that could impede energy production.

SandStorm is also a great example of prioritizing safety and sustainability. It functions and recharges autonomously, eliminates water and diesel usage, and thus eradicates the associated carbon emissions. 

From the perspective of economics, SandStorm's autonomous and waterless cleaning can substantially reduce maintenance costs for solar power plants, especially those large-scale plants located at remote sites with harsh conditions and insufficient natural resources.

Following evaluations at the EGP Innovation Lab in Catania, Italy, and a large-scale assessment at Enel Green Power's Totana facility in Spain, SandStorm is prepared for execution at two Spanish solar plants—Totana and Las Corchas—with a joint capacity of 135 MW.

Beyond robotic solar panel cleaning, other robotic solutions are making great contributions to the solar industry. The autonomous robotic solar construction system developed by Sarcos and solar installer Blattner has been validated by DOE and is preparing for commercial launch in 2024.

The implementation of robotic solutions is expected to lead to lower-cost solar energy for individuals and businesses ultimately, hence a greater share in the mix for solar.

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