Robots Improve Solar Panel Efficiency

The idea of using tracking systems to maximize generating capacity of solar panels isn’t anything new, but a startup is using robotics to make that process more automated and intelligent.

QBotix says its technology can boost energy production of ground-mounted solar panels by 40%, helping reduce the levelized cost of electricity.

"Robots have proven themselves in extreme and diverse environments from the surface of Mars to battlefields and ocean depths. We’re now deploying the innovations developed in robotics over the last several decades to manage solar power plants," says Wasiq Bokhari, CEO and founder of QBotix, which is based in Menlo Park, California.

The QBotix Tracking System combines dual-axis tracking technology with mobile robots to keep modules properly pointed at the sun throughout the day.

Two robots (one primary and one a backup) can control 300 kilowatts (kW) of solar panels, traveling on a track and adjusting each mounting system individually. That eliminates the need to install individual tracking motors to control different parts of an array. The system can be used with flat-plate and concentrating solar panels.

The technology costs about the same as a single-axis tracking system, says QBotix. It is designed to work with standard solar modules, inverters and foundation types for ground-mounted installations, and is covered by a base warranty of 10 years.

QBotix has raised $7.5 million in backing, including $6.5 million in a Series A financing round in March 2012 from New Enterprise Associates, Firelake Capital, Siemens Venture Capital, and DFJ JAIC.

"The capabilities of the QBotix Tracking System represent a huge leap forward in balance of systems technology. This is one of the biggest innovations of the solar industry in the last decade," says Forest Baskett, general partner at New Enterprise Associates and a QBotix board member.

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