Drone solar panel cleaning for your home

Published on 24 Jan, 2019 by Michael Bishop

Categories: Solar maintenance

Drones (or “unmanned aerial vehicles”) are getting popular. Over a million drones have been registered with the U.S. government since 2016.

Solar panel systems are getting popular too! Well over a million U.S. homes have solar panels on their roofs.

Maybe there’s a good synergy here — a drone solar panel cleaning service!

Drone and solar array

Does a drone solar panel cleaning service exist?

Yup. The company is Aerial Power, based in London. Alas, Aerial Power only serves very big solar systems outside cities.

There’s also a drone solar panel inspection service — we have to share their lofty (and somehow funny) video.

Would it be worth using a drone solar panel cleaning service?

Typical California home solar panels (for example) lose about 6% of their annual energy production from dust. Rain helps, but not as much in the long dry summer season.

If your solar panels save you $1,000 per year on electric bills, a 6% loss from dust is about $60 in lost bill savings. One source reports that dust can also make solar panels degrade faster for electrical reasons, but we won’t consider that potential longer-term loss.

There are solar panel cleaning services that involve people climbing on your roof with scrub brushes, but just one cleaning per year will cost over $60. So this isn’t worth it unless your solar panels have excessive dust, dirt, or bird droppings.

Cheap autonomous drone solar panel cleaning 5 years from now?

Solar panel cleaning could be much cheaper if it was automated (in other words, people weren’t directly involved).

A lot of smart people are currently working on technology for autonomous vehicles (vehicles that drive themselves, using “machine learning,” “computer vision,” “lidar,” and other fancy buzzwords).

Perhaps in 5 years, a drone can be set free on your property to clean your solar panels (with or without water — Aerial Power’s drone doesn’t use water). And while there might still be regulatory issues around drones flying over cities by themselves, perhaps a tiny autonomous car could shuttle the drone around the city (recharging it in the process).

This sort of science fiction is quickly becoming reality. In the meantime, you’re probably better off relying on rainfall to clean your solar panels. And accepting some energy production loss in the dry season.

Author: Michael Bishop

Michael's core purpose is to improve the customer experience around going solar. He primarily pursues this by writing articles and software at CutMyBill.