A Cost-Cutting Solar Solution: Using Robots!

solar installation

Solar panel installation is a labor intensive job that requires hours of work from qualified solar installers.

The biggest hindrance to a more rapid increase in the number of installed solar energy systems in the U.S.A. has been cost.  That hurdle has largely been cleared, since solar panels now cost 60% less than they did a few years ago.  There’s another aspect of solar energy which involves cost issues, and that’s installing panels in such a way that they can maximize on the ability to capture energy from the sun by rotating.  It has recently been discovered that solar robots provide a cost-effective solution.

One of the most remarkable aspects of solar panels besides the fact that they produce clean energy and they’re quiet is that they don’t have to have any moving parts.  On the other hand, more solar power is generated if the panels could move in order to face the sun throughout the day.  But then things get more complicated.

Hence, for a while now, the choice has been between a simple solar array with slight lower output or a more complex system which is more efficient at pulling in the sun’s energy but which means more upfront costs.

A possible solution has been discovered by a Menlo Park firm, involving the use of solar robots for large-scale solar projects.

There is definite benefit to having your solar panels pivot in order to follow the sun; it maximizes the output of your solar PV cells.  If the panels can move up and down, that’s also helpful, to capture more solar power as the sun moves both toward and away from the horizon.  In short, you can boost your PV cell output by as much as 30-35% by doing this.  While the solar energy benefit is tremendous, this system is also 30-40% more expensive due to the dual-axis drive system for the individual panels. Hence, we need to consider that in small residential installations the recent precipitous drop in the cost of solar modules more than offsets the economic benefits of most trackers if you simply add a couple more modules to a fixed array.

solar robots

It could take just one solar robot to rotate each of these panels so that they are always positioned for maximum sun exposure.

So here is where the small robot, called “Solbot,” comes in.  QBotix, a startup in Silicon Valley, has announced a more cost efficient way of adjusting a solar panel field to aim at the sun.  The company’s tracking system, along with all of the drive mechanisms, has been consolidated into a Solbot.  The robot moves quickly on a simple monorail and adjusts each panel.  One robot moves quickly enough to adjust 200 panels so that they are virtually always facing the sun.

Solbot isn’t the only robot that is advancing the goal of lowering the cost of installing large-scale solar energy systems.

It has been discovered that it’s 50% less expensive to install solar panel plants with the use of robots when installing many solar panels at once.  One study suggests that the robots can cut the cost of installing a 14 megawatt solar power plant to $900,000 – down from $2,000,000.  In addition, the system can be installed 8 times faster with the robots.  Instead of 35 people being required to handle the job of a commercial solar system, only 3 people are needed – with unemployment as high as it is, that benefit isn’t as thrilling.  But lowering solar costs is something to get excited about.

This solar robot runs on tank threads and has a mobile base and an arm with a grip which can lift 145-watt panels.  The robot positions the solar panels perfectly, one at a time, on the pre-installed metal frame.  People follow along and add fasteners and electrical connections.

With the arrival of helpful robotics, solar power has become a more affordable renewable energy source of the future in more ways than one! While solar robots adjusting panels are a wonderful cost saver for utility scale solar projects, trained human solar installers will still be necessary for residential and small business solar projects. The solar industry has seen tremendous growth in the past year alone and with this trend continuing who knows what the next great advancement will be!

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