Former RDP students’ solar panel “clean machine” honoured as finalist for provincial award
20, Sep, 2022
EDMONTON, Sept. 20, 2022 – We all know about the benefits of a clean energy source like solar power, but how does one actually keep it clean? A former team of Red Deer Polytechnic engineering technology students has shed light on a solution for this and, as a result, has been honoured as a provincial finalist for the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta’s (ASET) Capstone Project of the Year Award.
Solar panels are increasingly common as a climate-friendly, clean energy source but, when they get dirty due to dust or grime, their efficiency decreases by as much as 50 per cent. Three types of systems currently exist for cleaning solar panels. Manual labor is mainly used for residential set-ups with a small number of panels that can be cleaned in a few hours. Robotic cleaners, usually associated with solar farms, are designed to run on a straight track of panels throughout the day without supervision. While they are advantageous for large-scale operations, they and all their moving parts require yearly maintenance and are pricy. Driving cleaners, attached to human-driven machines, necessitate the use of large volumes of water as well as costly manual labour.
Former Red Deer Polytechnic engineering technology students Kyle Victor, Carson West and Nathan Crombie developed a pneumatic air blast cleaning system that requires minimal maintenance, is cost-effective and simple to install, is fully automated, needs no water supply, has few moving parts, can operate in any climate, is adaptable to any panel array geometry, and has the potential to be powered by the same solar panel system it is designed to clean.
In the former team’s prototype, one pneumatic air sprayer is attached on the top of the solar panel and another in the middle. An air compressor with tubing is connected to the sprayers. An Arduino kit, which is an open-source electronics platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software, is programmed to run a timed sequence for each sprayer. When the process starts, the top sprayer will spray air for a few seconds. When the dust is cleared off the top half of the panel, the top sprayer shuts off and the middle sprayer turns on for a few seconds to carry the already moving dust off the rest of the panel.
“Our team had two goals for this project. The first was to create a design applicable to both residential and industrial solar panel systems. The second was to ensure that it was cheaper and more efficient than cleaning systems currently available,” said former team member Victor. “Our system can clear off a solar panel in seconds unlike other systems where, depending on the location of the panel, that panel could be the last in the line waiting to be cleaned and may have spent hours operating at low efficiency.”
“The former Red Deer Polytechnic team must be commended for their clear-eyed approach to resolving a practical issue associated with solar energy,” said ASET CEO Barry Cavanaugh. “It represents a significant step forward in maximizing efficiency of an important clean energy source, and demonstrates the combination of practicality and innovation that characterizes the engineering technology profession.”
The former Red Deer Polytechnic team’s project is one of eight finalists named by ASET for the 2022 Capstone Project of the Year Award. The winning project will be announced later this year.
The Capstone Project of the Year Award was established by ASET in 2017 in response to overwhelming member interest in back-to-school stories about Capstone projects undertaken by teams of engineering technology students from NAIT, SAIT, Red Deer Polytechnic and Lethbridge College as part of their end-of-program requirements.
ASET is the professional self-regulatory organization for engineering technologists and technicians in Alberta. ASET currently represents over 17,000 members, including full-time technology students, recent graduates and fully certified members in 21 disciplines and more than 120 occupations across a multitude of industries.
Michele Penz, Calico Communications for ASET