WASHINGTON – A California startup said it has found a way to leverage robotics technology to increase the efficiency of solar farms while lowering the cost of their operation.
QBotix (Menlo Park, Calif.) has rolled out a dual-axis solar tracking system that uses tracked robots in place of expensive motors and other equipment and materials to keep solar panels pointed directly at the sun. QBotix claims its automated approach costs as much as existing single-axis systems while generating as much as 15 percent more solar energy. The increase in energy output is said to be 40 percent greater than fixed solar panels.
QBotix said it is targeting its systems to solar installations generating in the range of 200 kilowatts to 5 megawatts. “That’s the sweet spot for the market right now,” a company spokesman said Monday (Sept. 3).
Solar tracking systems are designed to increase the efficiency of large solar installations by aiming modules toward the sun as it moves across the sky. Conventional tracking systems are large and expensive, in some cases requiring thousands of pounds of steel and concrete. Adding to the expense are multiple controllers and motors.
QBotix claimed its robotic dual-axis tracking system can replace costly motors and trackers along with a lot of concrete and steel.
The system uses a pair of autonomous robots, one primary and one as backup. The robots travel on tracks to adjust solar panels mounted on specially designed racks that do not have individual motors. The robots adjust each mounting system to optimize solar collection. QBotix claimed its system replaces hundreds of individual motors and controllers used on conventional systems.
The robotic system also illustrates how tech startups are zeroing in on reducing the cost of materials needed to broaden the deployment of solar farms and residential systems. For example, Twin Creeks Technologies (San Jose, Calif.) is promoting a wafer production machine that aims to significantly reduce silicon and other substrate material costs.
Siemens, an early investor in the QBotix, has already qualified the dual-axis tracking system, demonstrating the ability to track both flat-plate and concentrating solar panels. Siemens deployed its first grid-connected solar system in October 2011. Along with Siemens Venture Capital, other investors include New Enterprise Associates and Firelake Capital.
Qbotix said it expects the first commercial deployment of its dual-axis tracking system in December.
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