– A mechanical device that eliminates the need for water and human labor when cleaning solar panels in the Kingdom has moved a step closer to full commercial production.
The No water, Mechanical, Automated Dusting Device (NOMADD) for photovoltaic installations is the brainchild of a startup team led by Australian engineer Georg Eitelhuber.
Eitelhuber and his team are supported by the Seed Fund product development program at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), which helps move promising ideas forward toward commercialization and ultimately, formation into new businesses.
NOMADD is a fully automated mechanical cleaning solution that pushes dust and dirt away from solar panel surfaces once a day using a “dry sweep” mechanism.
According to Eitelhuber, a pilot commercial prototype is complete and has been tested in outdoor desert conditions for the last two months.
Eitelhuber said: “So far, under intense dusty conditions, no scratching or panel degradation has been observed, and the panels are always clean to 99.4 percent.
“We are now in the process of identifying and communicating with likely investors.
“Ideally these investments will allow the commencement of local manufacturing buildup and high volume commercial models to be completed.
“We are currently in final negotiations with several customers who would like to purchase the current version for trials and testing in desert conditions, as a precursor to larger scale rollouts.”
The Seed Fund team developed NOMADD to eliminate the need for water and human labor in the operation and maintenance of solar arrays, especially given the extremely dusty and harsh weather conditions in Saudi Arabia.
Eitelhuber said: “The Saudi solar challenge is poorly understood in countries like Europe, where water is plentiful and conditions mild.
“As the solar industry in the Middle East and North Africa region develops enormously over the next few years, the many challenges that need to be solved will become fully understood by everyone.
“The benefits of adopting a solution, such as NOMADD, which avoids reliance on human labor and water resources while at the same time addresses the challenging working conditions due to the heat and dust will be obvious to all.
“NOMADD could be a game changer for the solar industry in the Middle East.”
According to Eitelhuber, there has been interest in the device from leading solar panel suppliers and large operations and maintenance companies.
The NOMADD team has also been invited to attend an industry conference in Abu Dhabi next month to showcase the NOMADD device, and recently demonstrated the device to a large delegation from the Smart Grid conference in Jeddah.
If efforts to attract investment are successful, full commercial rollout could possibly start as early as mid-2014, in time for the first large scale solar arrays to be deployed in the Kingdom.
Eitelhuber said: “Ideally, we are looking to partner with local investors who have a passion for the development of the Saudi economy and see the value in supporting locally developed solutions for local challenges.
“It is an exciting time, and we look forward to serving the Saudi desert solar challenge in the years ahead.”
The Saudi government recently announced that $109 billion had been earmarked to install 41 gigawatts of solar and nine gigawatts of wind capacity by 2032, according to an Ernst Young report.