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SunPower Buys Greenbotics for Solar Panel Washing Robots

SunPower Corp., the second-largest U.S. solar manufacturer, bought Greenbotics Inc., maker of robots that clean panels to increase the amount of power they can generate.

The robots clean dirt and dust off of photovoltaic and solar thermal arrays and cut water use by 90 percent, San Jose, California-based SunPower said today in a statement. Terms of the deal, the seventh acquisition SunPower has done since it was formed, weren’t disclosed.

SunPower plans to use the systems at projects it develops, especially in the western U.S., the Middle East and Chile, as an alternative to pressure washers and sprayer trucks. The robots will cut water use, save money and boost annual energy yield in dry, dusty regions by as much as 15 percent, according to the release.

“It’s half the cost of normal cleaning,” SunPower Chief Executive Officer Tom Werner said in an Nov. 1 interview. The technology, which he likened to a Roomba vacuum cleaner, “is one we can scale.”

Robots like ones made by Davis, California-based Greenbotics are becoming more common in the solar industry as a way to reduce installation and maintenance costs and make the power more competitive with fossil fuel. Panel prices have dropped more than 60 percent in the past three years.

Closely held Alion Inc., which makes robotic systems that install solar power plants, said in June it was seeking to raise $15 million on top of $10 million already raised.

Qbotix Inc., which makes robot systems to adjust solar panels to keep them facing the sun, has raised $12.5 million from investors like New Enterprise Associates Inc., Firelake Capital Management LLC and Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

SunPower, whose shares have gained more than fivefold since the start of the year, last week reported its second consecutive quarterly profit.

First Solar Inc. is the largest U.S. solar manufacturer.

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