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These robots take a shine to cleaning solar panels waterlessly

Using Ecoppia robotics technology, panels can be cleaned daily. Alternative methods are far more time-consuming.

Solar panels already face enough technical challenges when it comes to efficiency — that is, the amount of power they produce per module.

Israeli robotics startup Ecoppia wants to ensure that dust or other airborne particles don’t compound the problem. Generally speaking, soiled panels can reduce potential production by up to 35 percent, according to the company’s estimates.

Ecoppia’s technology, which cleans panels daily through a water-free process that maximizes energy production, can be programmed to combat dirt based on schedules or knowledge of weather conditions. The company actually incorporates data from The Weather Channel into its analytics dashboard, so customers receive severe weather alerts in real time.

The most common alternative is manual cleaning, often through cleaning services offered by installers.

This is not only time-intensive (it can be performed maybe once per week), but it wastes water not readily available in these locations, according to company CEO Eran Meller.

“By ensuring high day-to-day performance and an accelerated ROI from their solar assets, we’ve created a new standard for plant output that is changing the way operators, investors and governments view the benefits of solar power,” Meller said last fall, when the company signed five new projects in the Middle East.

Meller said most of his company’s installations will show a return on investment (ROI) of less than two years. One new 100-megawatt solar park will recognize its ROI in just 14 months, for example, saving 66 million gallons of distilled water in the process.

“Even under conservative assumptions, our technology will increase production by 150,000 megawatt-hours,” he said.

The robots that Eccopia uses were designed for arid climates. They are already deployed on more than a half-dozen installations in the Arava and Negev deserts. That’s roughly 6 million panels cleaned, collectively, every month.

Right now, the company’s main sales focus is near its headquarters in Herzeliya, Israel, although Ecoppia is studying India for expansion. Future installations in arid climates in Arizona, New Mexico and California make sense.

“We’re looking at locations that are solar-park intense that do not have an abundance of water,” Meller said.

To encourage adoption, Ecoppia is certifying is technology to work with technologies from major solar manufacturers.

Its latest certification came in mid-March, covering modules and panels from Trina Solar. According to the Ecoppia Website, the technology also has been cleared to work with technologies from Canadian Solar, Suntech, First Solar, Mitsubishi Electric, Kyocera Solar, Photowatt Technologies, Solar Frontier, JA Solar, Jinko, ReneSola and Texas Instruments.