Ridha Azaiz, an aspiring German engineer, had a dream. He imagined a robot that cleans solar panels to ensure their efficiency – especially in dusty sunbelt regions. By our measure, he has done exactly that with the development of Solarbrush, a robotic cleaning system. On Jan. 19, Solarbrush won the hy! Berlin Award, a competitive start up competition, and Azaiz has been in America this month meeting with potential investors and distributors.
Solar Power World caught up with Azaiz to ask four questions about Solarbrush and his dream. The engineer was kind enough to provide the answers, as they appear here:
How does the robot clean solar panels and move from one rack to the next?
The robot moves from panel to panel if the distance is less than 30mm. If it is larger, it assumes that there is no further solar module and moves into the next trail of its pattern. Therefore, the robot can cover the whole row of panels systematically. Once one row is cleaned, the robot needs to be moved manually onto the next row of solar panels.
As you meet with potential investors and distributors, what will convince them to support Solarbrush?
Solarbrush has a clear cut solution for an exponentially growing and focused target market. The device is based on many years of research and development. Feedback from pilot customers led to the design of today’s robot, which is why Solarbrush is experiencing a huge demand on a global level. Secondly, the timing is right: The sunbelt countries fully understand their current potential for PV power and are heavily investing in this. For example, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude oil exporter seeks to generate a third of its electricity with energy from the sun by 2032. Finally, solar panel manufacturers now admit that the panels need maintenance. So the awareness for the efficiency loss due to contamination from sand and dust rose significantly, underlined by scientific studies.
Your website says the robot has a target velocity of 1 m² / minute and a battery that lasts two hours. How are you working to improve those numbers?
I am improving and evaluating this with on-site testing. In addition, I am working closely with technical suppliers that have been involved for a long time, therefore I can implement their improvements quickly.
You’ve been developing this for years. Where does your persistence come from?
The requests for the device from the target markets have kept me going and have become a major driver. I was not fulfilled with university studies alone and therefore kept working on it.
In 1998, when I was 13, I first thought about the design of the robot. People used to think I was on the wrong track by building this robot, as the market volume was very limited back then. Anyway, I continued working on the robot and developed many mechanisms. This process was interrupted when there was the hype about nano coatings in the early 2000’s. I found out, though, that the nano coatings are not practical outdoors, and both sand and dust still remain on the solar panels.
Then, in 2007, I stopped again when the marketing chief of a German solar cell producer told me that it wasn’t necessary to clean solar panels as the rain washes them clean on a regular basis. I found out later that the solar industry did not like what I was doing solely for marketing reasons as they claimed their modules were free of maintenance. However, through my website, I kept getting requests for a solution, and a study from the Middle East was sent to me stating that solar panels lost about 80 percent of their efficiency after a sandstorm and there was rarely any rain, so this led to me persisting with my invention, Solarbrush.