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A Decision Aiding Framework for Investing in Cleaning Systems for Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Power Plants in Arid Regions Open Access

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The purpose of this dissertation was to develop, test, and evaluate a framework to assist investors in photovoltaic (PV) power plants in dust-prone arid regions make informed decisions regarding selection among PV panel cleaning alternatives. Soiling of PV panels is a problem in dust-prone arid regions such as the Arabian Gulf where daily dust deposition and frequent dust storms coupled with lack of rainfall can compromise PV panel energy output. There are several alternatives to clean the PV panels. However, not much research has been done to determine the most favorable means to do so or how often it is feasible to perform the cleanup. Furthermore, the decision maker/investor might face difficulty in selecting among several cleaning alternatives given the competing requirements that must be considered in the selection process. Therefore, in this research a framework was developed to assist investors in PV power plants determine: (1) how often it is economically feasible to clean the PV panels using different cleaning alternatives, (2) what impacts those cleanups have on the overarching factors considered during the selection process, and (3) what the most favorable cleaning alternative is in light of several competing requirements. A hypothetical 1 MW PV plant located in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, was used to test the developed framework which was accomplished by: (1) estimating the PV plant's lifetime energy yield using a PV performance simulation program, (2) researching and estimating the effects of daily dust deposition and dust storms on the panels' output, (3) surveying and collecting PV panel cleaning alternative cost and performance data, (4) developing a spreadsheet program to simulate PV plant lifetime performance under different scenarios using input data from the previous 3 steps, (5) using a multi criteria decision method (MCDM) to select among cleaning alternatives in light of competing criteria, (6) performing a sensitivity check on the criteria weights in the MCDM to check the robustness of the results. Research results indicated that although PV panel cleaning can consume large amounts of water and result in release of harmful emissions to the environment, the benefits of such cleaning can be worth it. The results also indicated that for each given scenario, an optimum cleaning threshold can be determined. It was also determined that initiating a cleanup when the soiling reaches a certain threshold is a preferable approach to cleaning using a fixed schedule. In addition, One-on-one interviews with subject matter experts to elicit their opinion resulted in determination of the selection criteria and priorities used in the MCDM which consequently resulted in selection of a preferred alternative. The results of the MCDM showed that opinion and preferences can vary drastically among different stakeholders and that, for each particular scenario, the set of relevant criteria and their priorities will depend on the stakeholders involved and their influence on the selection decision. Subject matter expert evaluation of the developed framework on whether it can improve selection among PV panel cleaning alternatives was accomplished via a questionnaire in which the experts rated the degree of their agreement or disagreement on a Likert scale. Average results indicated agreement that the study can improve selection among PV panel cleaning alternatives.

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