28 February 2013 – Ridha Azaiz, an aspiring German Engineer, wanted to build a robot that restores the efficiency of solar power systems by cleaning the panels so they function properly. In 1997 Ridha Azaiz was thirteen, and it bothered him that if a solar power system wasn’t cleaned, the energy yield of the solar panels rapidly decreased.
In 1998, tinkering with his invention led Ridha to the Youth Research Foundation and onto television with his cleaning robot. Solarbrush made its way to Berlin in 2009, then onto California and now into the booming Middle East countries, such as Abu Dhabi.
A dirty solar power system only produces two thirds of its power, so Ridha Azaiz has come up with a solution: Where solar power systems are most useful − in sunbelt countries’ like Morocco and Saudi Arabia or Arizona and California sand deposits which are a major problem for solar panels. Ridha Azaiz’s robot brushes sand and dust from solar panels until all the particles fall into the gaps away from each panel and onto the ground. Other robots suck, wash and clean the panels with water and detergent. These devices are difficult to use and require pumps and pipes which are usually more expensive than a small car. However, Solarbrush produced in higher quantities would only cost around US$3,000 per robot.
The largest competitors are currently unskilled workers who use simple methods, such as window cleaning to clean solar power plants. This is a gargantuan task that often exceeds that of cleaning the size of 200 football fields which, in the heat of the desert, is not a pleasant job. Solarbrush expects that to be profitable, four robots at a time need to be supervised by a service team. Currently, the Solarbrush robot needs to be manually moved from one row of solar panels to the next.