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Taiwan Startup’s Software Knows When it’s Time to Clean Dusty Solar Panels

周書羽 / 攝

Taiwan faces more trouble than its peers overseas in setting up large-scale solar panel farms because of a relatively small land mass and high population density.

Constant rain also means Taiwan’s solar energy output can be unstable. Then there’s the cross-border issue of when operators should clean their panels without wasting clear days that are ideal for harnessing energy.

Taiwan-based startup thingnario has an idea. Its Photon-brand software calculates the best time to clean solar panels, increasing generation by 17% to 19%, according to this paper.

thingnario’s software factors in dust intensity, cleaning costs and sunlight forecasts to come up with an estimate of the best time. The company charges clients based on the number of kilowatts it monitors.

To date, the company founded in 2016 manages more than 30 megawatts worth of power-monitoring software services in Taiwan and begun sales to companies in Italy.

Stable panel output depends partly on cleaning dust that can block generation capacity, so solar energy businesses often clean their panels twice a year and choose the best time based on estimates of when there will be periods of rainy weather.

Data that tell operators optimal times for cleaning the panels are complex, and it is difficult to sustain high output amid fluctuations.

How the software works

thingnario’s software senses dust accumulation in a panel and, when severe, notifies operators who may be offsite.

Company co-founder Su Meng-Chang gives an example where the panels on one solar were collecting debris particles from an animal feed plant next door. In two months, the performance ratio of the panels -- measured by the total amount of sunlight converted into electrical power -- slipped from 76% to 65%.

Profits grew 20% over a year after the software began monitoring that accumulation, Su said.

Like peers in much of the world, the Taiwan government is looking to promote cleaner energy. It has set a target of generating 20 gigawatts of solar energy by 2025. According to government utility provider Taipower, last year Taiwan generated 1.6 gigawatts.

To let the solar industry mature, last year the government established a program permitting licensed operators to install rooftop solar panels on household roofs on the condition the operators share part of any profits from solar power sales to Taipower. Those proceeds will be shared between households and the corresponding local government.

Government subsidies will probably decrease in Taiwan, Su forecasts, a reason thingnario got into the market.

Its software last year connected to infrared aerial services, based off satellite imagery, to collect data that should improve the accuracy of panel readings. The additional data will give thingnario an edge over competitors, co-founder Fan Yu-shiang said.

Startup’s back story

Most of the thingnario key staff members have more than 10 years of experience in software. Almost everyone on board is a founder, fostering a strong team work ethic. Everyone is able to handle a range of tasks.

Among the founders is Winston Hsu, a professor and researcher at National Taiwan University Department of Computer Science and Information Engineering. Hsu also worked at IBM to help produce an artificial intelligence-made movie trailer before joining thingnario.

Most of other founders once worked for NUUO, a company founded in 2004 that specializes in surveillance and environmental monitoring technologies.

thingnario’s Jubi Chen tells Business Next that familiarity with such technology and existing B2B supply channels gave the firm an edge from day one.

News source is from Business Next.