One of the biggest challenges in maintaining a solar farm is the issue of cleaning. Keeping the panels clean can make a huge difference to productivity of solar power, especially at utility scale. That has led to the emergence of firms specialising in the job. It wasn’t long though, before a Chinese firm started to make an impact in this area too, considering how dominant the country’s firms are in the solar supply chain.
One of these is Boson Robotics Limited, a firm focused on solar cleaning solutions. The firm is up against European rival Ecoppia, which has had significant success with its own water less cleaning technology, and a headstart in terms of client acquisition, besides many other players.
The firm has tied up with PS Greentech, a Bhilai based firm for its operations in India. It claims total installations of over 400 MW in China so far, even as it doubles down to tap into the growing Indian and Middle East regions next. Speaking to Saur Energy, PK Sharma, VP – International Sales & Marketing and India Operation Head, Boson Robotics, says
“At Boson Robotics, our goal is to develop solutions for various different solar farms. ‘From W to GW’ is our vision for our existing products and those in R&D pipeline reflect this focus.” The firm claims that clients in India and the Middle East are already designing to ensure they get the best out of their cleaning systems too.
“Many solar farm developers in India and Middle East already appreciated the value of robotic cleaning and are designing solar farms facilitating robotic cleaning, that is to say, longer rows and fewer obstacles of gaps between panels to save CAPEX in robotic cleaning system.
With longer arrays, cleaning robots today can clean up to 4000 panel per trip, or about 1.5 MW worth of panels. In this case, robotic cleaning CAPEX investment could only take 0.2% of the total investment for setting up the solar farm, with cleaning cost per MW as low as 3-5 USD, that is a huge cost saving and good return on investment.”
But keep in mind that this is a sector where prices have actually been falling every year. Thus, for any supplier in the cost chain, increasing prices is almost impossible, forcing most to look at squeezing out other efficiencies. Boson Robotics is quite clear that it is about more than just costs.
“Most of the existing solutions for solar panel cleaning are still relying heavily on human labor, manual or water tanker spray. First of all, they are very costly, let alone the huge consumption of water, which is hardly ample or available in most solar farm sites, secondly, it is very difficult to inspect the result and quality of the cleaning job, especially when soiling problem is severe.
Our robotic cleaning also offers a cost-effective solution with very high quality and long lifetime in harsh outdoor environment. We realize that despite this we have a high threshold to overcome before developers opt for our systems, which makes us focused on making improvements all the time.
In fact, the firm has been so focused on conserving both power and land, that besides being ultra-light and equipped with very sophisticated self-charging system, their systems have a separate Panel, on top of the Robot to charge the Robot Battery to conserve space.
So is there a minimum viable size for a solar cleaning solution that is automated? Especially with rooftop solar catching on in a big way now? Boson would like you to believe they have it all covered.
“We even have very cheap automated cleaning solution for one panel, which we now use for cleaning the 50W solar panel carried by our robot for self charging purpose. The solution can obviously be used in other applications such as solar lamps, solar pumps or solar powered telecommunication substations too.
If its automated, can AI (Artificial Intelligence) be far behind? Boson Robotics claims that even here, they are moving ahead of the curve.
“Boson robots are integrated with a self driving algorithm to overcome obstacles gaps between panels. The robot will make self alignment and posture adjustment at a 0.3 second interval to maximize gripping force of wheels on panel frames so that it will have no risk of getting stuck and the impact on panels could be minimal. This method also extends the lifecycle of motors and batteries considerably while at the same time extends the mileage of the robot a lot”.
How does the firm see the solar cleaning market evolving in the near future, with so much pressure on the land use, conserving water etc?
“The awareness of soiling problem by solar farm developers and the cost-effectiveness of robotic cleaning solutions are two key factors for the market. According to Global Market Insight, the overall solar panel cleaning market will be 1.2Bn USD by 2025 with a CAGR of 14%, while automated cleaning solution grows 4 times faster than the average rate, and taking more market shares from manual cleaning during the course. And more cost effective automated cleaning solutions will definitely be more widely applied by clients due to the obvious benefit it can bring.”
The issue of water shortages in high irradiance areas is one that the firm gives it a definite advantage over manual methods, for instance.
“Most automated cleaning solutions operate without water, saving the valuable water resources for those dry regions, where manual cleaning consumes 7-12 tons of water to clean a MW solar farm, and also the fuel to transport that water. Low cost and very high quality is the goal we never cease to pursue as a robotic cleaning solution provider. We work closely with solar farm developers, panel makers, and tracker makers to achieve the goal.
Boson robots are designed with the vision that we never use extra power and land (for docking of robot) in the solar farm to minimize the negative impact on environment.”