Sharp's robotic cleaner will make solar panels sparkle

The system has been tested in Thailand and saves labor and water

Sharp's automatic solar panel cleaner on show at Ceatec 2013 in Japan on October 1, 2013.

Sharp's automatic solar panel cleaner on show at Ceatec 2013 in Japan on October 1, 2013.

It might not be immediately obvious, but with every solar panel installed comes a simple but essential piece of maintenance: regular cleaning.

Just like the windows on your house, the glass on the top of solar panels gets coated with dust and dirt that cuts down the amount of light that passes through. More so than windows, solar panels are particularly vulnerable because they often lie at a shallow angle in an exposed location.

A thin layer of dust and grime can reduce efficiency by around 15 percent -- that's a lot of potential power to waste just because the glass isn't kept clean.

So Japan's Sharp, a leading manufacturer of solar panels and generation systems, has come up with a robotic answer to this problem. The company has developed an automatic cleaner that will latch on to the top of a bank of solar panels and clean them one by one.

The device, which is on show at this week's Ceatec expo in Tokyo, can clean about 1,800 panels per hour. It requires a two-person team to operate and will cover around 5,220 panels before its battery runs dead, the company said.

In contrast, current manual cleaning requires a 10-person team that can get through about 7,380 panels per day, so the automatic cleaner is much more efficient.

Sharp has already conducted trials of the cleaner at Thailand's Changwat Lop Buri. The plant is one of the largest solar generation facilities in the world, covering an area of 2 kilometers by 1 kilometer, and contains 640,000 solar panels to produce up to 73 megawatts of electricity.

By hand, cleaning all those panels was a three-week job that required 62 workers. Using the solar cleaner, the job was accomplished in the same amount of time using about 20 workers, Sharp said.

In addition to requiring fewer workers, it also consumes just one-tenth the amount of water of the manual cleaning process -- about 0.3 liters per panel.

Sharp is working toward commercializing the cleaner, which will first work on the company's own panels. Adapting it to clean solar panels made by different companies shouldn't be difficult, and Sharp will consider that after initial commercialization, said Akimasa Umemoto, a department general manager at Sharp's Solar Systems Group.

Sharp is already working on a next-generation system that doesn't require water. While the current prototype is suitable for use in Southeast Asian countries and places such as the U.S., the waterless version will be aimed at the Middle East, where access to large amounts of water can be problematic.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags energysharpindustry verticalsroboticsCEATEC

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?