Kiama inventor and clean energy advocate, Edwin Humphries, is looking to make Kiama home to a manufacturing facility for his automated solar panel cleaning system.
He and his business partner Andrew Petersen have launched a crowd-sourcing fundraising campaign to raise the $60,000 they need to get the project off the ground.
“Once we get the right backing, we are ready to start manufacturing,” says Andrew.
“We have all the suppliers and manufacturers identified, together with local assemblers, and it’s all costed. We even have a site for the workshop. So, everything is ready to press the button, once the capital is there.”
They are hoping the local community, that has taken so strongly to installing solar energy panels, will rally to support this clean energy project and the opportunity to develop a new local industry.
“SolarClear is a unique, fully automatic cleaning system, designed to maximise the output of solar panels under Australian conditions,” says Edwin. “It is safe, water-efficient and affordable.”
They say that while there are 1.6 million solar installations across Australia, the bad news is many of them are operating at less than their full capacity – simply because they are dirty. This is particularly a problem in areas without regular rain to clean them naturally. In Kiama, salt build-up during periods without rain is the main problem.
“The dirt that cuts the output of solar panels builds up from day one: international studies have shown that within five weeks they can be working 30% less efficiently, rising to 50% – and staying around that level until cleaned. Heavy rain does clean them, but within a week, up to 7% of capacity will be lost, with the cycle starting again,” says Andrew.
He says not all the usual cleaning methods are advisable, with manual cleaning often hazardous. Cleaning panels with brushes can damage the panels and other methods such as water-blasting can penetrate electrical connectors.
“SolarClear offers an effective way of keeping solar panels operating at peak capacity, using a set and forget cleaning system.”
Edwin, who has run Ironstone Technology in Kiama for a number of years but is an industrial chemist by training, came up with the idea when working on a scientific design project with the University of Wollongong, and has perfected it over a number of years.
SolarClear is designed to simulate a regular, heavy shower of rain, and can be retro-fitted to existing panels.
“It recreates the cleaning effects of a heavy downpour by delivering a cascade of water directly to the panels – without overspray or wind loss – on a weekly basis to keep average losses at less than 3.5%.”
Edwin says SolarClear is cost-effective for homeowners with just 1.5kW (8-9 panel) arrays, and scalable (in its present form) up to 60 panels (12-15kW).
Supporters of the crowd funding can get discounts on systems they install, with the first orders expected to be delivered before the end of the year.