One of the latest developments in mass-produced energy is solar farms – large scale photovoltaic systems that supply energy to the grid, just like a traditional power station.
Solar panels typically convert approximately 20 percent of the sun's energy into electricity, but if they are dirty, that conversion efficiency is reduced. Dust, pollen, and even bird droppings can build up on solar panels and block a percentage of the sun's light from entering the system. Keeping these panels clean is a major job but a very important one.
A breakthrough from the US employs drones to monitor their solar farm and detect when panels are dirty, then deploy cleaning robots to glide over rows of solar panels, gently removing dirt.
For residential solar installations, the small amount of grime that builds up on solar panels isn't significant enough to make it worth frequently climbing on your roof or hiring someone to clean a few panels. But it's a different story for giant solar power plants, where even small percentages can add up to many lost megawatts.
At the moment, the biggest operating large-scale solar PV plant is the 102 megawatt Nyngan facility in NSW which has a 102 megawatt capacity (and is also the largest in the Southern Hemisphere). For comparison, a typical fossil fuel power station in Australia produces between 300-800 megawatts and gas turbine power plants from 40-400 megawatts.