Advanced Systems: Waterless robotic cleaning solutions

The environmental impact of traditional cleaning methods has come under scrutiny in recent years, particularly in a populous and diverse country like India. Water scarcity is a significant concern in many regions of the country, making the efficient use of this precious resource a top priority. Moreover, solar power is ex­pected to account for 10 per cent of global power generation by 2030, with much of it likely to be located in desert areas where sunlight is abundant. The accumulation of dust on solar panels is already a significant issue, as it can reduce the output of PV panels by as much as 30 per cent in just one month. Therefore, regular cleaning is essential for such installations. Currently, cleaning solar panels is estimated to consume 10 billion gallons of water per year, enough to supply drinking water for up to 2 million people. To this end, the potential and need for waterless robotic cleaning solutions is immense in the solar segment.

Waterless robotic cleaning solutions are advanced technological systems design­ed to clean solar panels without the need for copious amounts of water. These innovative robots are equipped with a combination of brushes, vacuum systems and high-tech sensors, allowing them to efficiently remove dirt, dust and debris while mi­nimising water usage.

Advantages of waterless robotic cleaning solutions

The adoption of waterless robotic cleaning solutions in India perfectly aligns with the country’s increasing emphasis on sustainability, conservation and technological advancements. The following are some key ad­van­tages of waterless robotic clea­ning solutions in India.

  • Minimal water usage: Traditional cleaning methods, such as hoses and pressure washers, consume substantial am­ou­nts of water. In contrast, waterless ro­botic cleaning solutions rely on advan­ced technologies such as dry brushing, suctions or chemical agents that require little to no water. This dramatic reduction in water consumption is particularly beneficial in regions facing water scarcity.
  • Preservation of local water resources: By using waterless cleaning robots, ur­ban areas can reduce their dependence on local water sources such as ri­vers, lakes and groundwater. This helps preserve these resources for essential needs such as drinking water, agriculture and sanitation.
  • Efficiency and precision: Robotic cleaning solutions are designed to be highly efficient and precise in their cleaning tasks. They can cover large areas quickly, ensuring thorough cleaning without wa­sting excess water. Their precision minimises the need for repeated cleaning, further conserving water resources.
  • Sustainability: Waterless robotic cleaning solutions align with India’s commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility. Reducing water con­su­mption contributes to the country’s efforts in combating climate change and promoting responsible resource ma­nagement.
  • Cost savings: Besides environmental benefits, adopting waterless robotic cl­ea­ning solutions can lead to significant cost savings for urban municipalities and businesses. Less water usage means lo­w­er water bills, and the efficiency of ro­botic systems reduces labour costs.
  • Improved air quality: Some waterless cleaning methods include air filtration systems that capture dust and particulate matter during the cleaning process. This not only enhances the cleaning qu­ality but also contributes to improved air quality in urban areas, which can have significant health benefits for residents.
  • Technological advancements: As technology advances, waterless robotic cle­a­ning solutions continue to improve in ter­ms of performance, energy efficie­ncy and adaptability. This makes them a via­ble and sustainable option for addre­ssing water scarcity challenges in urban areas.
  • Scalability: Waterless robotic cleaning solutions are scalable, which means they can be deployed across a range of urban environments, from streets and sidewalks to industrial facilities and co­m­mercial spaces. This versatility allows them to address water conservation challenges in various contexts.
  • Reduced human intervention: These robots are designed to operate autono­mously, reducing the need for human intervention during cleaning processes. This not only saves labour costs but also minimises exposure to hazardous cle­aning chemicals.
  • Versatility: Waterless robotic cleaning solutions can be adapted to various en­vi­ronments, from office buildings and shopping malls to public transportation and educational institutions.

Recent developments

Many companies are offering waterless robotic solar panel cleaning solutions and this is fast becoming a highly competitive market. Airtouch Solar, an Israel-based pu­blic company trading on the Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange, is a key player in the waterless robotic cleaning space. It specialises in developing cutting-edge auto­nomous, water-free robotic PV panel cleaning solutions for utility-scale solar PV installations. In August 2023, Airtouch Solar an­no­unced an $8.5 million agreement with ReNew Power to supply and install AT 4.0, a water-free robotic cleaner for solar panels, with a 25-year maintenance period, and plans to finish installation by the end of June 2024. Additionally, in July 2023, the company sig­ned a $3.2 million deal with Amplus Solar to supply and install systems for panels in Rajas­than, along with 25 ye­ars of comprehensive maintenance.  Full installation for this endeavour is expected by the end of 2023. In May 2023, Airtouch Solar signed a master supply agreement with Adani Green Energy Limited (AGEL) for robotic dry-cleaning systems in AGEL’s solar field in Rajasthan. In March 2023, the company secured a $4 million contract with the Acme Group for the supply and maintenance of robotic water-free cleaning systems for PV solar panels, alongside a long-term $3 million contract with ReNew. Finally, in Octo­ber 2022, the Avaada Group signed a long-term contract with Airtouch Solar for the maintenance of its solar modules using robotic cleaning solutions, spanning 25 years.

Apart from Airtouch Solar, Sleepwalkers and Sunpure Technology Company Limi­ted are actively exploring opportunities in India. In June 2023, Sleepwalkers introduced the Zero Dirt-BOLT automated robotic device that operates without rails for waterless dust removal from the surface of solar panels.  The robot can be deploy­ed for ground-mounted and roof­top/rein­forced cement concrete installations and is compatible with fixed, seasonal tilt as well as single-axis trackers. In March 2023, Sun­pure Technology signed agreements with Sprng Energy under which the company will supply its robotic cleaning systems that do not require water for Sprng Energy’s solar project cleaning.

The way forward

The future of waterless cleaning for solar panels in India holds an immense potential. As robotic cleaning solutions continue to gain popularity, they are poised to become more cost-effective, particularly for large-scale solar projects. The preference for automated cleaning solutions among utility-scale developers and operators of solar parks is being driven by the increasing expenses associated with manual labour, especially as project sizes grow. Although it may take some time for robotic cleaning to completely replace traditional methods, the decreasing costs of these solutions are encouraging more developers to embrace this innovative technology. Furthermore, the significant impact of accumulated dirt on solar panel efficiency highlights the necessity of regular cleaning to maintain optimal performance. With a strong emphasis on conserving water resources, the adoption of dry-cleaning te­­chniques is on the rise, especially in solar parks where sand and dust are the pri­mary culprits obstructing photon absorption. This transition towar­ds waterless robotic cleaning is becoming inevi­ta­ble, fuelled by environmental sustainability objectives.

Encouragingly, both local governments and developers in India are demonstrating a welcoming attitude towards innovati­on and the integration of new technologies. This openness sets the stage for substantial growth prospects in the field of robotic cleaning for solar panels. In the coming months, we can expect this technology to gain even more momentum, potentially giving rise to further advancements in robotic-related innovations that may ultimately become the industry standard for cleaning PV modules. This evolution aligns seamlessly with India’s commitment to cleaner and more efficient re­ne­wable energy sources, ultimately benefiting both the environment and the solar energy sector.