To maintain peak efficiency, solar cells must be regularly cleaned of dust and other accumulated dirt. However, many panels are installed in high or hard-to-reach locations, which makes cleaning them difficult, time-consuming, and also simply dangerous. One solution is to use aerial drones to spray soapy water on dirty solar panels. However, these drones often run out of battery quite quickly. In addition, they also do not make direct contact with the panels, so they may not completely wash away dirt.
To solve these problems, a Belgian startup, ART Robotics, has developed HELIOS, an automated cleaning service for solar panels. It’s a fully autonomous system that can access difficult-to-reach places and eliminates dangerous and costly work.
The system consists of autonomous cleaning robots that can move autonomously over the panels. These are placed on the solar installation using a drone platform. The drone uses its computer vision to spot the photovoltaic array and flies the bot to the exact location. The HELIOS Cleaning Bot is a lightweight robot that can autonomously clean solar panels. An innovative traction system allows the robot to move on inclined surfaces and even cross over to adjacent panels, thoroughly cleaning them using a brush and vacuum combination.
Once the job is done, the robot will transmit a wireless signal to the drone. Drone flies to the roof, picks up the robot, and brings it back to the ground. This whole process is done automatically, but the operator will still be available for manual supervision and control if needed.
Currently, ART Robotics is seeking funding for the HELIOS system on Kickstarter. For a pledge of at least €120 (around $132), Belgium-based customers can benefit from the company’s Home Pack that includes cleaning up to 20 solar panels with the Helios system. The planned commercial price for that one is €150 (US$166).