Eran Meller, CEO and co-founder of Ecoppia, tells Down To Earth about Ecoppia E4, a robotic system which cleans photovoltaic panels in large-scale solar plants without using water
What does your company do and what brings you to India?
Eccopia started in 2013. One of the main challenges in the solar industry is that a vast majority of large-scale solar plants are in the arid region where we have a lot of sun, lot of dust storms and not enough water. Eccopia is the first and only sustainable technology with fully automatic robotics to clean and ensure optimal productivity, each day, every day, seven days of the week.
What makes your system unique?
Eccopia is the only technology that is fully autonomous. It does not use a single drop of water. We are strong believers of water-free technology. It is the only system that has machinery intelligence which controls the robotic system. In addition to this, it knows the environmental conditions of any given site at any given point, wind-speed, sunrise, sunset and number of particles in the air. It can optimise the time of cleaning and ensure that after a dust storm, the site is back to optimal production.
What has been the response of the solar industry to your product?
We had to pass a lot of certification from PI (Photovoltaik Insitut) Berlin. This is the most rigorous institution worldwide. Siemens, Electric de France, Areva, everyone had to fully certify our technology. In addition, the Tier 1 panel manufacturers had to do their due diligence as well. Players such as Trina, JA solar, Suntech and many others. At the end of the day, the solar business is a leverage business so banking institutions have to give their green light as well. This is the only technology that is currently bankable. That is to say Tier 1 players can go to banking institutions and find our tech via 85 per cent loans. This is the first time in the history of the solar business that such a technology has passed the animation and prototyping phase. Within two years, we are cleaning well over 5 million panels a month. By the end of FY 2016, Eccopia will clean 25 million panels a month which is significantly more than 95 per cent of the robotic market worldwide.
How did you develop this technology?
We started with the need and once we fully realised the need, we developed the technology. We bring extensive experience of desert technology development in various industries and we have started in the Arafat desert in the Middle East, which is similar to Rajasthan, probably one of the most challenging areas the world over. Some of the fortune 500 CEOs claim that if you make it in the Middle East, you can make it anywhere. We started with Siemens, a very cost effective pilot, and moved to the first solar park in the Middle East. Two years later, Siemens decided that all of their deployments will use Ecoppia and since then, the company is growing exponentially.
Could you tell us how the robot works?
The three vital elements that Ecoppia uses are gravity, air flow generation and unique micro fibre fabric which can catch tiny microns of dust. Using the combination of these three, we meet the need of ensuring crystal clear sight every morning. Eccoppia has moved the industry from manual cleaning to automatic cleaning. We have moved the industry from water-intensive cleaning to water-free cleaning. Most importantly, we have moved it from 12 to 24 cleaning cycles, where you clean every night and ensure optimal productivity when the sun rises.
What kind of savings can one expect from this system?
We maximise revenue by increasing the average efficiency rate and we reduce operation and management (O&M) cost. The combination provides the owner less than two years return on investment (ROI) and during the life of the project, even if you take a 100-MW site, clients are expecting to increase the bottom line by over US $50 million. In today’s competitive landscape, it's most definitely significant.
What is the minimum size of a solar park where a system like this will work?
Practically speaking, any site can work. Ecoppia strongly believes in making an impact. To do so, our Board decided to focus on large plants and so far we are doing 10 MW and up. We have a sophisticated technology that saves water, manpower and brings visibility and it makes sense economically to deploy it on a large scale. We are not going at all in the residential business. We believe in focus and this is where we are—large scale utility plants in Middle East and India.
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