Behind a high fence in Menlo Park, California, a grey, tuna-shaped robot glides on a monorail around 20 solar panel arrays attached to steel poles, like WALL•E on a Disneyland ride. The Solbot, made by startup QBotix, stops at each array and extends a cylindrical arm to adjust the angle of the photovoltaic (PV) panels so they capture the most amount of sun as it moves across the sky and through the seasons.
Meanwhile, in Germany, a giant robotic arm that looks like it escaped from an automotive factory and mated with an army tank rumbles through a field, plucking 300-pound solar panels from a pallet and installing them on steel racks. The robot is called Momo, and two of them can do the work of the 250 labourers needed to build a 100-megawatt PV power plant, its creator claims.
Solar power’s race to become competitive with fossil fuel has been aided hugely by the steep price drops in recent years for PV modules. Down 40 percent in the past year, PV modules now account for only about a third of the cost of a power plant. That has left developers scrambling for other ways to cut costs. “To be honest, there hadn’t been that much innovation happening,” says Martin Simonek, a solar analyst with research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance in London. “There’re only so many ways you can put panels on the roof or the ground.” So attention turned to such things as streamlining permitting and other paperwork and reducing the number of nuts and bolts needed to assemble a solar array.
Boring. It’s time to welcome our new robotic overlords, as startups like QBotix exploit advances in sensor technology and automation to cut solar power plant costs.
“We are the first company to bring robotics to the operation of solar power plants,” says Wasiq Bokhari, QBotix’s boyish 42-year-old chief executive. “Much of the cost of a solar plant is the steel. The robots allow us to take out 50 percent of the steel used in the system.”
Solar installers would prefer to rig panels to a dual-axis tracking system so the flat arrays can follow the sun and seasons, thereby boosting a plant’s electricity production by 45 percent. The catch: They’re expensive. Solar power plants can have up to hundreds or thousands of arrays, each with a tracking motor and other mechanical parts prone to failure. By eliminating individual trackers and letting one battery-powered robot do the work, QBotix claims it can cut total energy costs by 15 percent while increasing generation by 30 percent to 40 percent over systems that don’t track the sun.
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(This story appears in the 21 December, 2012 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)
Solar Panels is a good technology ...thanks for postingon Jun 20, 2013
Solar power is the hot topic of the day . This article has more asthetic sense because it has a coverage of solar potential effectively.A very sensitive part has been discussed that has a long mileage of improvements. Will you please make me your admirer?on Dec 11, 2012