Dust-cleaning robots: SunPower acquires Greenbotics

Large solar power plants located in remote desert locations face a big problem: dust.  How do you keep the solar panels clean?

Now San Jose-based SunPower has acquired Greenbotics, a Davis company that is a leader in developing robotic technology for cleaning solar panels. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed, but SunPower clearly has big plans to use the robots in Chile and the Middle East, emerging markets where SunPower has projects.

“We’re selling energy,” said CEO Tom Werner in an interview. “If sunlight can’t get to the panels, we’re not selling energy. Cleaning the panels can get up to a 15 percent better performance.”

Werner said that in California, large solar farms probably need to be cleaned two to five times a year. But in Chile, it would be more like every other month.

“In the Middle East, the air is colored by the dust,” said Werner, who traveled to Saudia Arabia earlier this year. “In 100 days a solar panel is completely covered with dust. The robots allow us to clean it monthly.”

The CleanFleet robots will work with SunPower’s Oasis fixed-tilt arrays and single-axis trackers, and use under a half a cup of water to clean each panel.

A CleanFleet robot washes a row of dusty solar panels at the SunPower Oasis solar power plant in Yolo County, Ca.

 

Dana Hull Dana Hull (252 Posts)

Dana Hull covers clean technology and energy policy for the San Jose Mercury News. She often writes about electric vehicles, the smart grid, the solar industry and California energy policy, from RPS goals to Gov. Jerry Brown's big dreams for distributed generation.