According to Environmental Affairs Minister Avi Gabbay, Israel has an important role to play in the execution of the accord on global warming closed in Paris over the weekend.
Close to 200 countries agreed to reduce their carbon footprint by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases they emit — and Israeli technology can help make that happen.
Among the technologies Gabbay was referring to was one by Ecoppia, makers of a robotic solar array cleaning solution that keeps photovoltaic panels at peak performance, even in the toughest desert conditions. Ecoppia was part of the Israeli delegation to the just-concluded COP 21 climate conference. Right before the event, the company announced that it would be retrofitting one of Israel’s biggest solar fields with its autonomous, water-free cleaning system.
Eran Meller, CEO of Ecoppia, said that his company’s solution is “the next step for the solar industry. We’re seeing significant value creation in all the projects we’re currently involved in, both here in the Middle East and in India. For many of the big industry players, a solution that can clean panels nightly, can respond instantly to weather and is waterless — we feel solutions like ours have the potential to become the industry standard.”
Ecoppia’s new work site is a 40 MW PV solar site jointly owned by EDF RE and Arava Power, located in southern Israel’s Arava desert — next to the Jordanian border and 20 and 60 miles from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, respectively. The hundreds of panels at the site join the 5 million or so solar panels the company’s technology cleans every month.
Like the new site, most solar energy farms are located in deserts, where there is plenty of sunlight — which solar panels, of course, need a lot of. But the desert also has a lot of dust, which clogs up the photovoltaic components of the panels, making them less effective in collecting sunlight for conversion into energy. Panels have to be cleaned on a regular basis, but water in the desert tends to be expensive, if available at all — and the use of water to clean the panels raises the costs of production, making solar power too expensive to be considered anything more than a novelty.
If the world hopes to reduce its use of fossil fuels, as the Paris agreement requires, solar has to become less expensive — and Ecoppia’s technology can do that. Instead of using water to clean panels, Ecoppia’s robot cleaners are equipped with microfibers, with each robot assigned to a row of PV panels. Using controlled air flow, the robots push the accumulated dirt off panels, as they glide along the surface of panels on their polyurethane-coated aluminum frame using wheels.
Each robot can cover about 100 square feet of panel each minute, saving not only water, but time. The robots are controlled by a central cloud-based control panel, and can operate in tandem (starting and finishing at the same time) or autonomously, based on the instructions given by park staff.
The agreement is significant, said Ecoppia, because it lends increasing commercial clout to a technology that the solar business is going to need if it is ever going to take off in a big way. Few countries in the world generate more than 10% of their electricity from solar (Germany is the world champ, with about one-third of the country’s power derived from solar; in Israel it’s barely 5%). Dirt and dust cover (“soiling,” in industry speak) on solar panels are a significant challenge and can decrease energy output by up to 40%.
Existing solutions — often laborers with water and brushes — can damage panels, using huge amounts of water that make the whole process cost-inefficient. Ecoppia provides a solution in the form of autonomous, waterless robots, which are managed through the cloud, and clean panels every night after production stops, the company said.
“It’s very exciting to see the progress Ecoppia is making in terms of winning large clients,” said Ron Adam, the permanent representative of Israel to IRENA (the UN International Renewable Energy Agency). “It’s because of promising technology like theirs that we believe Israel has a bright future in the International Solar Industry and why Ecoppia was chosen to take part in a side event on ‘Israeli Innovation in response to climate change’ at COP 21.”