NEOM has announced the adoption of KAUST startup NOMADD’s fully autonomous waterless robotic cleaning solution, to help realize NEOM’s solar power generation ambitions. NEOM is a region that is currently under construction in the northwest of Saudi Arabia. This giga-project brings entrepreneurs, business leaders and companies together to innovate and build new technologies and businesses in ground-breaking ways using 100% renewable energy and with sustainability as a key objective.
This new partnership includes the installation of two 5.5 MW solar arrays (the first of over 3,000 M2W planned at NEOM) as part of a set of large, hybrid energy systems, used to power the facilities during development. The new systems incorporate the latest solar cleaning technology and were developed by NOMADD, a KAUST startup. Cleaning the arrays maintains production levels at their optimum.
“Every day that you don’t clean, you can expect the solar energy production to drop by 0.5-1%. We call this the background soiling loss,” said Georg Eitelhuber, CEO and co-founder of NOMADD. “That’s just the daily background loss levels; after a bad sandstorm the soiling loss can be as high as 60%. Regular cleaning keeps production at high levels each day.”
NOMADD recently supplied and installed 61 of its autonomous waterless robots at these sites. On average, the solar panels are cleaned twice a day to ensure they remain dust-free.
Saudi Arabia’s desert environment presents both benefits and challenges to solar arrays. Although one solar panel in NEOM would produce almost three times the energy annually as a solar panel in Europe, they are constantly exposed to the elements. Dust builds up on the surface of the panels, creating a layer that restricts sunlight from reaching the electricity-generating cells. NOMADD’s robots clean away this dusty veneer, ensuring the solar panels stay efficient. This ensures the solar cells do not drop in efficiency, important if regions such as NEOM are to rely on renewable energy without fear of power shortages.
Each robot can be responsible for cleaning as much as a kilometer of solar panels. They are tracked and their remote operator can find them within the solar farm at any given time and be instantly alerted if anything goes wrong with them.
NOMADD was founded at KAUST in 2012. Then, in 2016, it received its first round of funding from KAUST Innovation Ventures, which grants seed money to startup companies as they begin to emerge from the university. The fund is one of just a few investors in Saudi Arabia offering this early-stage support. Those initial funds allowed NOMADD to spin out of the university and begin its journey to commercial viability. The company has since secured additional backing from DSM Venturing in 2017 and the Saudi construction company CEPCO in 2019.
The importance of innovations like NOMADD’s robots was recently highlighted when HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Chairman of NEOM Company’s Board of Directors, announced that Saudi Arabia will reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2060. Diversifying the Kingdom’s energy portfolio beyond fossil fuels is also a key part Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. NOMADD’s technology is quite literally helping to clean up Saudi power supplies, making mass-produced solar energy a more realistic and reliable prospect.
The demand of NOMADD’s solar-washing robots demonstrates a strong appetite for the technology within Saudi Arabia and abroad as the company expects demand to increase elsewhere within the Middle East and other global markets in the coming years.
Eitelhuber hopes the technology will help to put other countries on a more sustainable footing too. “The 2030 vision is what ties NEOM, NOMADD and KAUST together,” he said. “We believe in it. We think Saudi Arabia is turning many corners incredibly fast and evolving rapidly into a genuine technology-driven economy.”