In 2018, Akshat Vyas’ vision to create an innovation in the renewable energy sector met Mrunal Patel’s desire to solve problems through technological interventions, paving the way for Eco Impulse, an AIC GUSEC startup that provides robotic cleaning solutions for solar panels. Along with Ravi Vaghela and Smit Shah, the startup is now operating in three states across the country.
“We aimed to transform the solar panel cleaning market and the way people saw it by infusing technology in a predominantly labour-driven market. We underwent countless trials, failed a hundred times, but eventually built Eco Impulse to what it is today.” Smit reminisces.
But why Robots?
“We didn’t want to create new innovation in solar panels, but alter the intervention used in increasing the efficiency of the same. When left uncleaned, the solar panel can end up losing up to 20% of its efficiency, while regular cleaning can enhance it to 35%. However, the manual labour required for the same has its limitations. Not just that, using water, which is the traditional method to clean them, has challenges too, as water cannot be transported to regions with scarce supply.” says Akshat. Adding to the same, Smit says, “Robotic cleaning requires 90% lesser time when compared to traditional cleaning methods, with one robot cleaning up to 1400 solar panels in a day – with zero water wastage.”
Challenges posed by traditional Solar Panel cleaning
- Using water to clean solar panels causes ‘hotspots’ on the solar panel, collects dust in the corners, making the panel too hot and damaging its circuitry
- It also causes scaling (salt left behind after water evaporates)
- If not wiped with a dry cloth right after, the panels become moist, collect more dust, gradually becoming less efficient
“In comparison, our semi-automatic solutions can clean solar panels 8-12 times a month, with the efficiency dropping no more than 1-2%. We’re also the only institution operating in the sector with global certifications, which help us establish trust, yet, we have a long way to go in changing the mindset of the solar industry who are usually reluctant to adopt new technology.”
Endeavouring to Innovate
The team came up with an idea of Robots as a Service (RAS) model to reach all solar plant installers without the heavy infusion of capital by clients. “The problem wasn’t about how to clean solar panels but cleaning solar panels per se. Our vision was to do that without wasting a single drop of water” says Ravi.
Building this RAS wasn’t their first experiment with innovation. “I grew up watching the Discovery Channel. I endeavoured to pursue innovation all throughout college, building solutions like extracting excess Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere and working on a smart traffic signal to analyse dense traffic patterns,” says Akshat.
Making through the Pandemic
The startup began freelancing their services during the pandemic, learning to set up a working pricing strategy, learning about how the market operates and the value of their offering. “We learned an essential marketing lesson during the pandemic – no one will know you until you tell them. We started marketing the vision of Eco Impulse both online and offline to reach the maximum number of the right audiences” says Smit. They also began word-of-mouth marketing, not only talking about their product but also the impact it was created, which eventually led to more inquiries about their solutions.
Myths & Truths about the Indian Startup Ecosystem
“Although the Indian startup ecosystem is still growing in terms of investments and funding, we initially thought that we couldn’t get help from the startup ecosystem. Getting incubated at AIC GUSEC changed our perspective. It made us realise that we could also have access to grants, get investor-ready products and leverage mentorship at a faster pace.” Akshat says.
Akshat says that the invaluable lesson entrepreneurship has taught him is to “be coachable”, and says that the technology depicted in Indian mythology inspires him to work towards advancements of the same. For Mrunal, inspiration comes from cosmology. He says, “complexity attracts innovation, inspiring many to make lives easier and things simpler for everyone. There are so many aspects about the universe, for example, that aren’t understood yet – and it pushes me to go further every day.”
- Cleaned over 65,00,000+ solar panels till date
- Saved over 120,00,000+ litres of water otherwise utilised in solar panel cleaning
- Saved 2,00,000 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide