Autonomous Solutions for O&M
04 Jul 2022

Lowering O&M costs is paramount to remaining profitable in the solar industry today. To succeed one needs to remove as much uncertainty and risk out of the equation as possible. A proactive approach needs to be taken for panel maintenance so that one’s assets survive over the long run of a project. Considering the scale of new projects in development in the MENA region, with many reaching thousands of MW or GWs, reducing overhead costs is only feasible with innovative autonomous solutions. 

The remote nature of solar parks means one needs solutions that do not require staff to have to visit very often. When it comes to panel performance, the heavy soiling that occurs in the MENA region necessitates sites having regular, if not daily cleaning, to produce sufficient energy without encountering declines in output;relying on manual labour can be an expensive and inefficient endeavour. Furthermore, there is a risk of the panels being damaged by labourers and the potential for the ARC to be abraded by coming into contact with brush bristles. 

1. Automation

Automation keeps a project viable by ensuring labour costs are kept to a minimum, while also reducing water consumption.Waterless solutions, ensures solar modules are working to their optimal capacity by being cleaned daily. It also hedges the costs of uncertain water rates and rising labour costs, while eliminating the cost of building water infrastructures or importing water to desert terrain. Introducing a zero-water site ensures that environmental intentions of decreasing the reliance on non-renewable energy doesn’t deplete water supplies in an already arid environment. 


Ecoppia’s T4, a robotic solution for Single axis trackers


2. Corrective Maintenance 

The advances in robotic cleaning provide asset managers with more than cleaning itself, but also with data collection and full visibility into cleaning.  In addition, with full remote operation via an AI powered management system,the solar panel cleaning robot becomes more than a cleaning android. They are eyes in the field 24/7, mitigating the costs of sending workers for on-site visits a handful of times a year, and changing the way sites are managed. With daily monitoring of your panels and structure, corrective maintenance becomes easier and more efficient. Real-time alerts enable to address reliability issues preemptively. For example, severe dust storms have been known to take panels out of  place, and an on-site inspection surveying millions of panels had to be manually conducted. With autonomous, smart, and connected robots on-site manual inspection is no longer needed.

 Ecoppia’s H4, smart robotic solution for both fix tilt and Single Axis Tracker installations


3. Future Developments: Predictive Maintenance

Taking corrective maintenance one step further is predictive maintenance, which can influence the bottom line. The idea behind this is to respond to issues before they become output blockers and eliminate surprise and disruptive events. Robots that will interact with the modules on a daily basis, equipped with sensors that collect millions of data points, and therefore will provide a more accurate picture of what is going on with each panel, and row. 

The sorts of information collected can include comparative row output, whether the trackers are moving too fast or slow, issues with gear operation or motors, the straightness of panels or bends at corners. These true insights into site conditions provide asset managers with powerful analytics as well as actionable items, enabling sites to be further optimised and produce more energy. 

Ecoppia firmly believes that automation and remote operation in O&M are no longer luxury auxiliary services. They are now must-haves for smoothly run large-scale solar panel sites and must be considered a part of the outlay.  Finding a trusted partner with a reliable track record that can provide access to field data and analytical software that are paving the way for both corrective maintenance and predictive maintenance, are the key means to ensure proactive optimization of solar park’s performance and output.