Power from the sun is the most abundant source available to all forms of life on earth. Additionally, it is the first origin of other sources of energy apart from nuclear. However, maturation of solar technology has not reached the level attained by other conventional sources due to significant problems encountered such as its unpredictability, low efficiency and its need for storage (Gueymard, 2009). To increase the efficiency of solar power plants this project aims at solving the challenge of dust accumulation on the surface of solar panels which reduces the output of a plant as well as its overall ability.
Improving a plant's energy production capacity will involve the development of a Solar Panel Cleaning System which can remove the dust accumulated on a regular basis from its surface. By use of pneumatic suction cups, the robotic system could move autonomously on solar panel surfaces using dry methods of cleaning. Usually, solar plants are located in arid or semi-arid areas where water availability is a challenge. Therefore, a cylindrical brush and vacuum would be the most efficient. Besides, human involvement in the scorching sun can have serious health effects; this project considers minimizing their direct contact.
Discussion of Solar Panel Cleaning Robots
The idea applied to invent washing machines can be implemented to obtain an efficient robotic cleaner. This free device can move to different points of the surface using various techniques such as vacuum cleaning, scrubbing, mopping by use of a rotating brush. For industrial consumption, the robotic cleaner will have the ability to move freely on slanted surfaces with the help of vacuum suction cups. Additionally, the system will use a rotating cylindrical brush to enhance its efficiency.
In its working mechanism, the robot first moves in the direction parallel to the base of the solar panel then the brush is rotated towards the direction perpendicular to the station from top to bottom. This first cycle will repeat over until the entire surface is thoroughly clean. The solar panels will be fixed at an angle depending on the topography of the land and the latitude to which the solar power plant is located to achieve maximum solar irradiance. Notably, the slanted surface makes it difficult for a standard wheel based robot to move around as it can slip and fall to the ground. As a result, this disadvantage has been solved by placing suction cups at the bottom concerning the pneumatic system. By using vacuum pumps, these suction cups create a suction force necessary for the robot to attach and move on the surface freely.
Fundamental environmental factors play an essential role in influencing the power generation process using installed solar photovoltaic modules. Such may include ambient temperature, wind speed, atmospheric dust, solar radiation, and humidity. Cosmic panel surface dust builds up is an issue of concern particularly in desert areas where sandstorms occur regularly. It is because the accumulation of dust on the surface of Photovoltaic module decreases the ability of glass cover transmittance consequently; the amount of solar radiation reaching the cells is minimal Adinoyi & Said (2013). Other than dust, similar factors that influence a reduced Photovoltaic surface include the tilt angle, dominant wind direction, site climatic conditions, and density of the surface. Exposure period is also an essential factor. Further, the thickness, composition and particle distribution affects characteristics of the modules. Notably, research studies conducted in Saudi Arabia revealed that the amassing of dust continuously decline the power production of solar power.
While recording, it was noted that the average daily peak per month during the investigation period reduced by twenty percent. As a result, a single sandstorm, it was despite constant evaluation of the technology used. Conversely, during the rainy season of November, the production of all modules in the survey increased exponentially. However, the original power production at the beginning of the year was not obtained. Likewise, the cleaning routine of modules from December to March resulted in a reasonable high output. When cleaning was avoided in April, reduced power produced.
Notably, outdoor exposure of Photovoltaic modules for long periods of time reduces their efficiency due to building up of dust particles lest they are cleaned by human action or rain. Therefore, cleaning should occur within six months to counter a decreased power output (Mekhilef, Saidur, & Kamalisarvestani, 2012). More than half of power is lost if particles cover much of the glass. However, the frequency and strength of dust exposure are more important than the length of time that modules stay out the door. The following suggestion is to clean the installed photovoltaic blades at least once in two weeks. Nevertheless, in times when dust storms occur, quick cleaning is recommended. Correspondingly, due to diminishing rainfall because of climate change, rain water's cleaning capability cannot be trusted as it is unpredictable.
Design and Component Specification
6.1 Locomotion Unit
This unit is responsible for the mobility of the robotic system on the surface of the solar panel. Its components include two legs placed parallel to each other. It further comprises a structure, double rack, pneumatic and pinion systems. The locomotion unit has three necessary Components:
6.1.1 Double Rack and Pinion system
A pinion, in this case, is placed between two parallel tracks. Similarly, the frames are joined to the structures while the sprocket and Direct Current Motor are fixed together. The Motor is further attached to the movable platform which is then connected to the rods with the help of linear bearings (Jeon et al., 2015).
6.1.2 Pneumatic System
The pneumatic system has stuck the robot to the surface of the solar panel. It incorporates the vacuum pump, pneumatic pipes, and the suction cup.
The structure is the primary part of the locomotion unit where all other parts are fixed.
The rods are stainless steel built using acrylic sheets. The rods are fitted with the linear bearing which assists in the linear motion of the platform on the rods to enhance it further.
6.2 Cleaning Unit
6.2.1 Linear Actuator
The linear actuator converts the rotary motion of the stepper motor into the linear motion. It comprises of a central bar where a stepper motor is attached. On its top is a V-Slot Gantry plate which moves with the assistance of v-wheels. Besides, the platform is attached to a timing belt guided by a stepper motor.
6.2.2. Linear Actuator Platform
It is the main platform that moves on the V-Slot rail on to which the brushed controller is mounted.
6.2.4 Direct Current Motor
This class of electrical machine converts direct current to mechanical power. Its main type relies on the forces produced by the magnetic field. Direct Current motor speeds can be regulated over a vast range by use of a variable supply voltage or by changing the strength of the current in the field winding. Specification: Voltage: 12 V Speed: 200 rpm Current: 0.5- 1 A
6.2.5. Vacuum Pump
This device removes gas molecules from a sealed volume to leave behind a partial vacuum. The vacuum pump connects to suction cups which facilitate movement of the robot on the surface of the solar panel. Specification: Vacuum Range: 0-16" of Hg Voltage: 12 V Direct Current Pressure Range: 0-32 psi Power: 12W
Direct Current motor, four vacuum pump, and one stepper motor were used in this project. To provide power a Switched-Mode Power Supply (3.5 amps @ 6Volts) is used. Managing is done using an Arduino Mega microcontroller. Power is distributed through a circuit designed for a general purpose Printed on Circuit Board (PCB).
In conclusion, the solar panel cleaning system prototype plan was constructed by taking into consideration the design parameters. At first, the Computer Aided Design model was made using Solid Works. The Computer Aided Design (CAD) model was stimulated to check the validity. It was further fabricated into a Computer Aided Design. After testing the model, the following conclusions were made: The Double Rack and Pinion Mechanism worked as expected. 2. The suction cups stuck to the surface of the panel, but for a short period. 3. The whole device was unstable and created lots of disturbances while in operation. 4. The linear actuator system functioned adequately and achieved the required design standards. 5. The cleaning action of the brush failed to scrub the sticky dust 6. The sticky soils can only be removed using a hard brush or through an enhanced mopping action.
Duffie, J. A., & Beckman, W. A. (2013). Solar engineering of thermal processes. John Wiley &Sons.
Gueymard, C. A. (2009). Direct and indirect uncertainties in the prediction of tilted irradiance for solar engineering applications. Solar Energy, 83(3), 432-444.
Jeon, N. J., Noh, J. H., Yang, W. S., Kim, Y. C., Ryu, S., Seo, J., & Seok, S. I. (2015).Compositional engineering of perovskite materials for high-performance solar cells. Nature, 517(7535), 476.
Adinoyi, M. J., & Said, S. A. (2013). Effect of dust accumulation on the power outputs of solar photovoltaic modules. Renewable energy, 60, 633-636.
Mekhilef, S., Saidur, R., & Kamalisarvestani, M. (2012). Effect of dust, humidity and air velocity on efficiency of photovoltaic cells. Renewable and sustainable energy reviews, 16(5), 2920-2925.
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