Clean Power

Published on September 5th, 2012 | by Mathias


Will Robot Trackers Reduce the Costs of Solar?

September 5th, 2012 by  

Sunflowers, and many other plants, have evolved their own natural tracking systems enabling them to follow the sun’s trajectory throughout the day in order to maximize their absorption of sunlight… and thus, survive and proliferate.

Applying this concept to photovoltaics with mechanical solar trackers is not by any means something new. By using solar trackers, a solar panel can receive a performance boost of as much as 40%.

According to Wikipedia, at least 85% of commercial PV installations greater than 1 MW, from 2009 to 2012, have used solar trackers. However, conventional solar tracking systems are expensive to run and not feasible in the most home installations.

Instead of costly controllers and rotators on every single solar panel, QBotix in California has designed a robot that does all the heavy lifting:

“Just like a physician goes to one patient to the next to monitor health, the SolBot goes on one tracker to the next and is able to monitor everything about that tracker,” explains Wasiq Bokhari, the CEO of QBotix, in an interview with CNET News.

Image credit: QBotix

Two SolBots alternate between adjusting the solar panels to face the sun and charging in a self-powered docking station. They can together manage up to 200 solar panels, roughly the equivalent to a solar system with a combined capacity of 300 kW. Adding more robots to the team can easily be implemented for larger solar systems.

“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,” Bokhari told Bloomberg.

A single-axis tracking system usually costs somewhere between 35 to 45 cents a watt, as opposed to the SolBots, which only are a few cents a watt in operating costs each.

The company has successfully completed a nine-month trial of their prototype “to show that the system indeed has the cost and reliability benefits that we talk about,” and will be starting to sell their next-gen SolBot already this September.

QBotix Inc. has said that it can cut the cost of energy from solar farms by as much as 20 percent. Their technology does hold a lot of promise, but if they are able to reduce the solar panel costs by this amount, it almost seems too good to be true. It will be interesting to follow QBotix in the coming months.

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About the Author

studies Energy and Environmental Engineering. In his spare time he writes about solar panels and other renewable energy technologies at Energy Informative. Connect with Mathias on Google+ or send him an email.

  • Growl

    Why bother with a sun sensor? A micro controller could compute the position more accurately than any sensor. A chain or belt drive could adjust multiple panels of an array.

    The robot is totally useless for rooftop home or office systems. Home and office systems will probably exceed the much larger ground based systems.

  • Bob_Wallace

    There’s no need for controllers and rotators on every single panel. That makes no sense.

    You gang a lot of panels together in a single frame and move a boat load of panels at once. All it takes is a single sensor mounted to the rack to determine Sun position and a single CPU can control an entire farm.

    Of course panels are getting so cheap that it likely doesn’t pay to track. Perhaps if you’re installing close to the equator it might.

    BTW, I don’t believe that Wiki claim that 85% of all large installations use trackers. Doesn’t ring true at all.

  • Ronald Brak

    This story would be more convincing if the picture didn’t consist of a limbless robot hovering in the air emitting a Doctor Who special effect.

    • dynamoe.joe

      Ummm, its not floating, its riding on that horizontal rail you see in the picture there.

  • anderlan

    I’ve thought about connecting multiple arrays with a belt so one motor and controller would work them all, but that would be limited to one axis. This looks like it might truly cut costs! The interface is simply mechanical, so small sites (like a home) could use the same frames with third party (or homespun) motors and controllers connected to each.

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