Solar Panel Cleaning Systems and their Pros and Cons

Solar panel cleaning systems

There are many ways to clean solar panels but the general dos and don’ts include

  • Don’t us a pressure washer
  • Don’t use lots of water (it is expensive and the property owner will not forgive you)

  • Do consider automation as it lowers the cost of cleaning significantly and increases your productivity and quality
  • Understand that there are 2 main segments. 1) Commercial & Industrial Solar Panel Cleaning Systems 2) Utility Scale Solar Panel Cleaning Systems.

Commercial & Industrial Solar panel cleaning systems

Commercial and Industrial Solar panel cleaning systems are challenging because they rarely have water and energy sources next to the solar panels. They can be dangerous to clean since they may be on rooftops, carports or off the ground. Each installation is very unique since solar panel installers do not consider cleaning when they design the layout.

The main systems include

Semi Automation

Within semi automation you have to solar panel cleaning systems

  • M – XY Semi – Robot driven by operator via remote control. The robot travels in xy axis coordinates and is very similar to driving a remote control toy car. This system requires a high upfront cost but productivity levels improve by 4x. There are several xy semi automated robots on the market but we highly recommend hyCLEANER since its robot has very low wear and tear costs and excellent engineering.
    • Pros – Productivity rates improve by 4x, Less exposure to employee lawsuits, safer than cleaning manually, less water consumption, Facilitates scaling your business. Payback happens within the first month.
    • Cons – Requires an investment of usd $20,000 – usd $50,000, Operators must be trained, the robots can be heavy and my require 2 to 3 operators. Inclination levels may be an issue.
  • X axis fixed robot that is moved and allocated by an operator. This system also works nicely but usually requires “Custom made solar panel cleaning robots”. Relysm.com offers custom made solar panel cleaning robots.
    • Pros – If inclination levels are high this robot will work, easy to use, Payback happens with in the 6 months
    • Cons – Time to delivery, since these robots are custom, you will have to wait 3 months to get them.

Manual Solar Panel Cleaning Systems

  • Cleaning manually with a water fed pole. While this system “works” for just about any installation, it is expensive in terms of labor rates and liabilities associated.
    • Pros – cheap labor can be used, easy to start a business with this method
    • Cons – Lots of people means lots of liability. Accident levels will be higher with this cleaning system. Water consumption rates are much higher with this system.
Manual solar panel cleaning system

Utility Scale Solar Panel Cleaning Systems

  • T Power – This solution requires a higher upfront cost since you need a tractor, hydraulic arm and smart rotating brush with proximity sensors however it is the most productive solution on the market.
    • Pros – Cheapest way to clean a utility scale installation, Great payback and ROI
    • Cons – Cannot be used on all installations, may not be ideal for very desertic area such as the Sahara or Atacama desert

  • M-Semi – This solar panel cleaning system is great for utility scale installations where a tractor cannot be used or the ground is pure sand like in the Sahara or Atacama desert. With this solution the operators fix the robot to several arrays and simultaneously move them down the array. The robots can do dry and wet cleaning and are extremely productive.
    • Pros – This system works on just about every utility scale installation, Payback compared to manually cleaning is extremely high, CAPEX values are reasonable any ROI usually happens with the first cleaning
    • Cons – More expensive that T-Powered system, requires more operators than the T-powered system
  • Auto & Smart Solar Panel Cleaning System – This system is abuzz these days and conceptually it is very simple. We have one robot per row/array that is fixed and solar powered. The robot moves back and forth daily and no human intervention is needed. While this system is being implemented the CAPEX values are extremely high and the performance loss due to soiling “the cost of being dirty” on the solar panels has yet prove that the ROI is ideal.
    • Pros – Human intervention is only required for technical repair. Performance loss due to solar panel soiling is virtually zero. Great for areas that are VERY remote and with extremely high soiling levels.
    • Cons – CAPEX values are VERY high and performance loss due to soiling have to average over 3% for this system to be justified. The financials still do not prove that this system is economically beneficial. These solutions only work in extremely arid regions such as the Atacama and Sahara desert where humidity levels are virtually non-existent since they only do dry cleaning. These solutions do not work well where there is humidity.

Solar Panel Cleaning Automation is a very young industry. When choosing your system we recommend you work with consultants to find the best solution for you company or installation. Key takeaways

  • Study the system cost not just the cost of the machinery.
  • Calculate your CAPEX & OPEX for each system to determine the best solution from a financial perspective.
  • Water is expensive, consider it in your analysis. Different robots have different consumption levels.
  • Robots have different productivity levels, consider this in your analysis.
  • Wear and Tear is extremely important – There are lots of cheap robots on the market that high very high wear and tear costs. Consider this factor in your analysis.
  • Inclination levels is a factor you must know. Not all robots have great inclination levels.
  • PV Soiling Levels are key. You have to compare the cost of being dirty to the cost of each solar panel cleaning system to see with system is idea. Invest in soiling monitoring such as the solutions DustIQ and Fracsun have.
  • Work with solar panel cleaning engineers to find the best solution.