How Do You Clean 250 Thousand Solar Thermal Mirrors? Trucks With Robot Arms!

Massive Shams 1 plant in the Abu Dhabi desert finds ways to deal with dust, wind

1 min read
How Do You Clean 250 Thousand Solar Thermal Mirrors? Trucks With Robot Arms!

It only takes five of these bad boys to clean the entirety of the Shams 1 concentrating solar power plant in the desert near Abu Dhabi every three days. That's a lot of cleaning: there are 258 048 mirrors at the plant, measuring 1.5 m by 1.3 m each, covering a total of about 2.5 square kilometers. The mirrors concentrate the sun's heat onto a liquid inside a tube, which is then used to make steam that turns a turbine to make electricity. According to Alawi Al Jafri, who took me and a gaggle of press around the plant on Sunday, they like to keep the mirrors to 85 percent reflectivity, though it could drop much lower and still function well. It turns out, he says, that there isn't much of a difference in output between clean and somewhat dirty mirrors, but when they get extremely dusty (which happens quickly in the windy desert of the UAE) and the reflectivity drops very low the efficiency comes down dramatically.

Watch the trucks in action:

Photo and video: Dave Levitan

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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