The cleanliness and maintenance of solar farming hubs is a matter of concern for Nithin Sha Najeeb, a final year electronics engineering student at Heriot-Watt University. “Most of the cleaning methods applied at these farms are not sustainable or practical,” said Najeeb.
Najeeb, along with his professor Dr Prashant Kumar Soori, developed a project called ‘Smart Technology for solar panel cleaning and off-grid electrification’. For this innovative project, Naj-eeb and his teacher bagged the third place at Xplore 2018: New Automation Award organised by Phoenix Contact, a German company that is oriented with future-oriented components, systems and solutions in the field of electrical engineering. Najeeb won the award in the environment category.
Najeeb’s technology got a nod from the Expo 2020 organisers and a fully-developed version will be displayed at the fair in 2020. Furthermore, his project won from among 196 applications from 34 countries. “The project and its success are a consequence of years of research and hard work,” said Dr Soori.
“During the initial call for submission, Phoenix Contact received 196 applications out of which 100 applications were finalised for funding. They frequently monitored the progress of the project through video conference from Germany,” added Najeeb.
“In Dubai, there are several sol-ar farming hubs. To clean the panels, people can apply manual cleaning, use robotics, brushing and wiping, or coating. However, there are drawbacks in these four cleanings methodologies,” he said. The current methods used in the market are costly, labour intensive, involves periodic battery replacement, more water usage, large mechanical components and requires cyclic maintenance.
In the case of Najeeb’s project, air and water are mixed in a pre-designed pressure, to be sprayed on top of solar panels. “Our technology has no moving parts. I started working on it in May 2017 and uploaded an initial video which got accepted, and later we got 3000 euros worth funding from Phoenix Contact,” he said.
The project consists of two phases, which was developed and demonstrated in a single prototype. “The phase one project was decided due to frequent soiling issue in the solar farm that is common in the UAE and GCC countries. From the research, it was understood that there was no efficient cleaning system for solar farms. Therefore, we came up with an idea of cleaning solar panels using pressurised air-water mixture,” he added. The advantages of this technology are that it has no moving parts, no guard rails, no battery replacement, less water consumption, requires less operator intervention and no self-cleaning is required for the cleaning system, “said Najeeb.
His professor added: “The second phase of our project was to solve rural electrification problems in developing nations.”
“Energy kiosks are designed for electrifying rural areas in developing nations. Battery banks are distributed to local people on a rental basis, where they can it take it home, and these batteries can be used to power LED lights. Once the battery is drained, they can bring it back to our energy kiosk and charge.”