Autonomous Cleaning and Service Device for Solar Panels

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(CEO) Yorck Hernandez

Autonomous Cleaning and Service Device for Solar Panels

Cleaning, maintenance and inspection in the fast growing photovoltaic market: Higher electricity output of PV power plants at lower service costs.

The two patent families require financing for additional five years maximum. They are on time for the growing solar market that is just picking up substantially:

  1. Service device for cleaning and maintenance of a solar panel arrangement (US 9, 157, 661 B2EP 2 437 001 B1)
  2. Device for inspection of a solar panel arrangement (EP 2 522 991 A1)

What is it?

The patents cover cleaning, maintenance and inspection of ground-mounted large-scale photovoltaic (PV) power plants. They are the key components for a lightweight construction with sustainable outdoor mobility and largely unrestricted navigation and cognitive vision systems for pollution detection and cell inspection. It is able to automatically run over glass surfaces of solar modules arranged in long rows in an unrestricted way. Its application will increase the electricity output of the PV plant at lower service costs.

Safer, Faster, Cheaper: Advantages over Common Solutions

  • Reduced risk of the robot falling from or getting stuck at the solar panel arrangement.
  • Even with a solar module tilt of 75 degrees, no active (like a suction cup) or passive vacuum needed to make sure that the robot doesn’t fall.
  • No need for guiding rails at the solar modules.

Geographical coverage of the patent protection


DE (Germany), EP (Europe), US (USA), CN (China), KR (Korea)

  • EP2437001 – Germany (DE602010009302.6), status: patent granted
  • EP2437001 – Switzerland (EP02437001), status: patent granted
  • EP2437001 – Great Britain (EP2437001), status: patent granted
  • EP2437001 – France (EP2437001), status: patent granted
  • EP2437001 – Spain (E100121717), status: patent granted
  • EP2437001 – Italy (EP2437001), status: patent granted
  • CN201110250942.1 – China, status: patent granted
  • IN2171/DEL/2011 – India, status: examination proceedings
  • IL214308 – Israel, status: patent granted
  • KR10-2011-0081558 – Korea (South), status: patent granted
  • US 9, 157, 661 B2 – USA, status: patent granted
  • EP11003907.0-2213 – Europe, status: examination proceedings

Use cases and markets

Why are the Patents Needed?

In the last years, the use of solar panels for the collection of solar energy and conversion into electrical energy has become a common practice. In solar power plants, large numbers of solar panels are mounted and disposed in an array-like arrangement, usually forming long rows of solar panels. In order to maximize the yield of collected solar energy, surfaces of the solar panels are aligned and tilted towards the sun. Solar panels consists of solar cells covered by a protective glass coating, that gets dirty from sand, dust, pollution etc.. The more dirt is on the solar cells, the lower is the amount of electricity that can be generated. Latest scientific research shows that the accumulation of dirt, dust, water, moss etc. could reduce the photovoltaic performance by up to 85% (source: Shaharin Anwar Sulaiman et al. / Energy Procedia 50 ( 2014 ) 50 – 56; Influence of Dirt Accumulation on Performance of PV Panels). Therefore, periodic cleaning of the panel surfaces is necessary in order to achieve a high level of energy production. Furthermore, there is the need for maintenance of solar panels especially in solar power plants, e.g. periodic examination of the panels for mechanical or electrical defects. However, manual maintenance of a large number of solar panels is costly in terms of time and labor. In addition, it is tedious work accompanied by physical exhaustion and inattentiveness of the workforce, eventually leading to variations in maintenance quality.

How big is the Market?

According to SolarPower Europe (SPE) (Global Market Outlook for Solar Power 2015–2019, June 2015) global PV installations will grow between 41 GW and 60 GW in 2015. Following a market consolidation in the previous years the worldwide value of this market will probably reach the milestone of 100 billion Euro in 2015. For the coming years SPE expects the fastest PV growth to continue in China, South-East Asia, Latin America, the Middle-East, North Africa, and India. In 2014 China, Japan and USA were the three top markets. SPE forecast worldwide capacity will reach between 396 GW and 540 GW by 2019; a doubling and tripling of installed capacity within five years. In Europe solar power could grow by 80 percent by 2019. Driven by its increasing cost-competitiveness the utility scale segment (versus solar PV rooftops) – of that ground-mounted large-scale photovoltaic (PV) power plants are part - is expected to keep the higher proportion of the total market.

Combine and Diversify your PV Patent Investment

Those two patent families can be easily combined with the patent families “Cleaning apparatus for solar panels” and “Transferring Device for a Service Robot for Solar Modules”. Therefore it can make sense to spread the investment over the different campaigns. Together the five patent families cover cleaning, maintenance and inspection of solar panel arrangements. At the heart of the patent portfolio is a fully autonomous cleaning robot for ground-mounted large-scale photovoltaic (PV) power plants. It is a lightweight construction with sustainable outdoor mobility and largely unrestricted navigation and cognitive vision systems for pollution detection and cell inspection. It is able to automatically clean glass surfaces of solar modules arranged in long rows in an unrestricted way. Its application will increase the electricity output of the PV plant at lower service costs.

About the EU Research Project

The patents are a result of a research project, running between 2009 and 2011, supported by the European Commission (EC)'s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The PV SERVITOR project focused on concepts for a fully autonomous cleaning robot for ground-mounted large-scale photovoltaic (PV) power plants. Europe's largest PV companies strongly supported this small and medium-sized enterprise project as end-users and granted access to their large scale PV power plants. The project resulted in five patent families, covering key enabling technologies such as service, cleaning and cognitive vision technology.

 

The project has been coordinated by Manu Systems AG. Research partners are the Danish Technological Institute DTI, the Mechatronic Research Unit of Hochschule Regensburg MRU, Profactor and the Berner Fachhochschule BFH.

Project Page: pv-servitor.eu