Desert Nomaddby Jason O'Connell on Aug 7, 2014
Georg Eitelhuber, CEO of Nomadd Desert Solar solutios, talks about the NO-water Mechanical Automated Dusting Device (Nomadd), for removing dust from solar panels
When did you come up with the idea?
The first ever drawing was done way back in November 2010 and that came about from a realisation that if solar ever came to the Middle East, the biggest challenge it would face would be dust on the panels. Using mostly lego and paint rollers, we started prototyping. Eventually we thought we’d cracked the perfect kind of mechanism to do this job because we could manufacture it using a minimum number of moving parts. Patents are pending now in 20 countries and jurisdictions and, lo and behold, about a year ago his excellency the Saudi oil minister, Mr Al-Naimi put a $100 billion proposal in for solar in Saudi for the next 20 years.
How does the system work?
It’s basically a brush with a unique design. Instead of scrubbing the dirt onto the panels, which can cause micro-scratching, the brush flicks the dust. Even dust that’s been stuck on with humidity can be removed without water and that’s what differentiates us from a lot of the market.
Why is it important to remove dust from solar panels?
Dust build up can lead to a 1% loss of output per day so every day you don’t clean your panels you lose that much of your electricity output because the dust shields the panels from the sunlight. The other issue in the desert is dust storms and we’ve noted up to a 60% drop in output in a single day from dust storm activity.
Is a bucket and sponge the only alternative?
There are a few systems on the market. We’ve seen a number of robotic systems coming out of Europe and the US. The challenge they face is they’ve been developed without a real understanding of the conditions here. Some systems use water, which is not going to be viable in the long-term. Other systems use wheels or tracks on the surface of the panels and that’s a disaster because over 20 years it can grind dirt into theface of the panels and cause degradation to the surfaces.
Other systems are very complex with a lot of moving parts and just won’t survive in the desert. We’re talking 20-year lifespans so any system with that many moving parts is set up for maintenance problems.
Is it currently in use commercially?
At the moment we’re still on a testing/pilot project scale in Saudi Arabia although we have opportunities coming up in Jordan, the UAE and other locations.
We’ve got a number of different testing agreements in operation while we wait for large scale deployments to happen in Saudi and the rest of the GCC.
Have you done any cost analysis?
Quite a bit. We can halve the lifetime cost of energy compared to manual cleaning. That’s our biggest competitor at the moment in this region but we are only half the cost over the lifetime of a project.
When do you see the Nomadd being used on a larger scale?
There are bids on 100MW worth of solar projects in the region. That suggests that in the next 12 months we should be filling our first orders on a large scale.
How many would be required for 100 MW?
Probably between five and 10 units per megawatt, depending on the configuration of the row. So for 100 megawatts we’d be looking at between 500 and 1,000 units. The cost effectiveness is in the simplicity of the design. With one unit per row, you can touch a button and the cleaning is done within half an hour.