Will Robot Trackers Reduce the Costs of Solar?

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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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