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By CER News Desk on Sep 4, 2012 with 4 responses

Autonomous Robots Promise to Reduce Costs of Solar Energy Production

After showing off its innovative product to investors for more than nine months, California-based startup QBotix is preparing to release its so-called solar robots next month, autonomous machines that promise to cut the cost of producing solar electricity by up to 20 percent.

Solar energy plants around the world currently use either single-axis or dual-axis tracking systems to rotate photovoltaic solar arrays in order to keep them pointing towards the Sun throughout the day and the year, helping them to boost electricity production by as much as 45 percent in comparison to arrays that use no tracking system at all. While reliable and effective, these types of tracking systems are expensive; because each individual array must contain a motor and other moving parts, the energy cost that each system demands is high.

Enter the QBotix solar robot, a single battery-powered machine that can manage the rotation of up to 200 arrays at a fraction of the cost of traditional systems, yet so efficient that it is able to significantly boost energy production while reducing operating costs.

“The benefit we provide is that, without any cost difference, the project owners can generate 8 to 15 percent more energy compared to single-axis tracking systems and 30 to 40 percent more energy than fixed-mount systems,” says Wasiq Bokhari, Qbotix’s chief executive officer. Concerning the robot’s energy consumption, Bokhari added that “the robot itself is only a few cents a watt,” this in comparison to the 35-45 cents per watt required by traditional systems.

The robot works by gliding along a fixed rail, stopping at each array and extending an arm to rotate it as needed. Given its fixed nature and the fact that wiring runs in a conduit along the QBotix monorail itself, the angle at which the robot works is unimportant, making solar energy production more accessible by eliminating the need to level land or dig trenches for burying wiring.

QBotix is declining to offer pricing details until the product is ready for launch next month.

  1. By tadchem on September 5, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Exactly what does this robot do that cannot be accomplished by a clock drive and equatorial mount similar to those that amateur astronomers have been building from scratch since the late 1600′s?

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  2. By Tom G. on September 5, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    I am also at a loss to see how this provides a significant advantage over stationary ground mounted utility scale systems.  I would like to see a systems cost analysis before I jump on the band wagon.    Currently most utility scale systems sit unattended and quietly produce electrical power and that is why many utilities like them.  This system MIGHT require more frequent intervention by humans and we all know how people can screw things up.     

    Also there seems to be an industry trend to promote the use of pile driving equipment for ground mounted systems.  This leaves much of the soil and surrounding areas undisturbed.  It seems to me that stripping away the vegetation and covering the soil with rocks and tracks for robots may not be cost effectiveness.

    Of course tracking systems do add significantly to the amount of power produced so as the commercial says – show me the fax [facts].    

     

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  3. By Russ Finley on September 5, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    Next step …robots to install them on roof tops and clean them as well! Another method used instead of adjusting tilt is to add a few more panels to make up for the loss in efficiency.

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    • By tennie davis on September 6, 2012 at 2:23 am

      Russ, I would prefer the robots just build nuclear power plants, seems more efficient.

      You’re right about adding more panels, less moving parts, less complexity/maintenance, and panels are cheap.

      I watched a video of QBotix adjusting each panel and I started laughing, it reminded me of a Rube Goldberg machine.

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