Thursday, 7 November 2013

Robotic Solar Cleaning Advances & Electrolux Flying Cleaner

The system has been tested in Thailand and saves labor and water.
Sharp's robotic cleaner will make solar panels sparkle: 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.

Mab is an automated cleaning system consisting of hundreds of flying mini-robots that can clean all types of surfaces. It has been designed by Adrian Perez Zapata.
Design lab finalists reveal gadgets of the future: From breathing walls to holograms and intelligent kitchen appliances, Electrolux Design Lab's eight finalists reveal how we might be cooking, cleaning and improving our home environment in the future. The eleventh annual Electrolux Design Lab competition fast forwards us to the future where technological boundaries do not exist. Here we reveal the eight finalists selected from over 1,700 entries from across the globe. Take a closer look at these stunning futuristic concept designs.

Mab: Mab is an automated cleaning system consisting of hundreds of flying mini-robots that can clean all types of surfaces. Mab flying robots will scan and clean the house using paying extra attention to dirty areas. The mini-robots clean surfaces by trapping the dirt particles to ensure maximum cleaning. Mab has been designed by Adrian Perez Zapata studying at Universidad San Buenaventura Medellín and Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Colombia.

Greenbotics’ method uses far less water — up to 90% less — or half a cup of water per panel.
How Robots Can Keep Solar Panels Clean And More Energy Flowing Into The Grid: SunPower  said Monday it’s bought a California startup that engineers robots for cleaning solar panels to minimize electricity production losses. SunPower paid an undisclosed amount of cash for Greenbotics after using the startup’s equipment for the past year at a 25-megawatt solar farm it’s built and operating for K Road Power in California’s Central Valley. Greenbotics’ technology speeds up the cleaning process and uses less water, said Tom Werner, CEO of SunPower. Manually hosing down the panels or sending pressurized water from a sprayer mounted on a truck has been among the conventional approaches.

Greenbotics’ method uses far less water — up to 90% less — or half a cup of water per panel than the manual cleaning process, SunPower said. Each cleaning crew makes up three people and six robots and can brush-clean 6 megawatts of solar panels in an 8-hour shift. Cleaning mostly takes place at night. “There really wasn’t an eloquent way (of cleaning solar panels),” Werner said. “The robotics is a huge improvement on this.”

Finding more water and labor efficient ways to keep the solar panels perform well makes a big difference in how much electricity and revenues a solar field can generate. The differences become greater in regions that are short on water, such as the desert, where abundant sunlight makes it an ideal location for solar energy production but its lack of ample water drives up the cost of running the solar power plant.

In places such as the Middle East, fine and sticky dust can reduce the solar panels’ energy production by as much as 15% and often requires monthly cleaning, Werner said. For a project like SunPower’s just completed, 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch for NRG Energy, on the other hand, panel cleaning will take place twice to four times per year, Werner said. Besides making solar panels, SunPower also develops and builds solar power plants around the world.

Solar power plant developers and operators typically guarantee a certain amount of electricity production annually for their projects. Maintaining the health of the solar panels, inverters and other equipment is a long-term commitment. Large-scale solar projects sell the electricity to utilities, usually via 20- to 25-year contracts.

Robots are playing an increasingly important role in the solar business. There are trackers that rotate the panels to follow the sun’s movement throughout the day. This method costs more money than panels that stay put, but the additional amount of energy produced could make it worth the investment. QBotix, a Silicon Valley startup, for example, has designed a robot that moves along a track to visit each solar panel and rotate it at regular intervals.

Other companies are engineering robots to install solar panels in the field more efficiently or, in Greenbotics’ case, to take care of the solar equipment after installations.

But given that the use of robots is pretty new in the solar business, whether it will really provide significant savings and generate more profits remain to be seen. We are only starting to see large solar power projects coming online in the United States to help utilities meet their renewable energy mandates.

While Greenbotics’ technology has been used to create panel cleaning equipment, it will have uses beyond that. SunPower’s long-term plan is to use it for developing robots for speeding up the panel installation process of its projects, Werner said. The company doesn’t plan to sell the robots as a stand-alone product.
Playing loud pop music boosts output of solar panels by 40%: Playing loud pop and rock music improves the performance of solar cells, according to new research from scientists at Queen Mary University of London and Imperial College London. The high frequencies and pitch found in pop and rock music cause vibrations that enhanced energy generation in solar cells containing a cluster of 'nanorods', leading to a 40 per cent increase in efficiency of the solar cells. The study has implications for improving energy generation from sunlight, particularly for the development of new, lower cost, printed solar cells.

The researchers grew billions of tiny rods (nanorods) made from zinc oxide, then covered them with an active polymer to form a device that converts sunlight into electricity. Using the special properties of the zinc oxide material, the team was able to show that sound levels as low as 75 decibels (equivalent to a typical roadside noise or a printer in an office) could significantly improve the solar cell performance. "After investigating systems for converting vibrations into electricity this is a really exciting development that shows a similar set of physical properties can also enhance the performance of a photovoltaic," said Dr Steve Dunn, Reader in Nanoscale Materials from Queen Mary's School of Engineering and Materials Science.

Scientists had previously shown that applying pressure or strain to zinc oxide materials could result in voltage outputs, known as the piezoelectric effect. However, the effect of these piezoelectric voltages on solar cell efficiency had not received significant attention before. "We thought the soundwaves, which produce random fluctuations, would cancel each other out and so didn't expect to see any significant overall effect on the power output," said James Durrant, Professor of Photochemistry at Imperial College London, who co-led the study.

"The key for us was that not only that the random fluctuations from the sound didn't cancel each other out, but also that some frequencies of sound seemed really to amplify the solar cell output - so that the increase in power was a remarkably big effect considering how little sound energy we put in." "We tried playing music instead of dull flat sounds, as this helped us explore the effect of different pitches. The biggest difference we found was when we played pop music rather than classical, which we now realise is because our acoustic solar cells respond best to the higher pitched sounds present in pop music," he concluded.

The discovery could be used to power devices that are exposed to acoustic vibrations, such as air conditioning units or within cars and other vehicles. Dr Dunn added: "The work highlights the benefits of collaboration to develop new and interesting systems and scientific understanding."

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