Robots Increase Solar Power Plant Efficiency

Robots are making solar power cheaper and more efficient.

Startup company QBotix says its QBotix Tracking System (pictured), a robotic dual-axis tracking system, can increase the energy production of ground-mounted solar power plants by up to 40 percent over existing fixed-mount systems. QBotix says its robots, which adjust the angle of PV panels so that they capture the most sun, also lowers the levelized cost of electricity by up to 20 percent.

The robots run on lithium-ion batteries and can adjust 200 PV arrays in 40 minutes at a cost of about 30 cents of electricity per day, QBotix CEO Wasiq Bokhari tells Forbes. The robots also allows companies to use 50 percent less steel — one of the biggest costs of utility-scale solar — in power plants, Bokhari says.

In September, QBotix announced that Siemens Technology-To-Business, which helps bring new technologies to market, had successfully finished its year-long qualification of QTS for deployment.

QBotix deployed its first grid-connected system in October 2011.

Meanwhile, German solar power plant builder PV-Kraftwerker is testing Momo, a robot that builds solar plants.

PV-Kraftwerker Managing Director Eberhard Schulz says using robots instead of people to build solar power plants should equal an 80 percent improvement in efficiency. Plus, Momo, which uses 3D cameras and other sensors to pick up large panels and place them on mounting racks, can build around the clock, regardless of weather conditions.

Two Momos can do the work of the 250 people needed to build a 100 MW PV plant, the robot’s creators, German engineer Bernd Brodbeck and Kiener Maschinenbau, a manufacturer of automated industrial systems, tell Forbes.

The U.S. solar industry notched its second-best quarter in history, installing 742 megawatts ofsolar power in the second quarter of 2012, according to a report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).


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