Someone in the corner of a Silicon Valley neighbourhood lies the future. Robots surrounding these homes are working hard to generate electricity.
Protected by a massive fence, a robot glides along a rail system between 20 solar panels attached to steel poles. Each time it reaches a solar panel it stretches out its arm to adjust the angle of the panels. The idea of this is to track the sun throughout the day, that way the electricity production is maximized. This technology is the invention of Californian Start Up Company, QBotix, based in Menlo Park.
This system is claimed to solar energy production by as much as 45%. However, at the moment the technology is much more expensive as each solar array must contain a number of different parts not normally present in solar panels. This includes a motor and various other mechanical parts. QBotix took this idea to the next level, they say that they have been able to cut costs by 15% and increased electricity generation by a further 15% due to using one robot control 200 panels. This means that in the future this could perhaps become one of the cheapest solutions for solar developers.
The majority of the cost of the Solar Panel is down to the steel in the system claims Chief Executive Wasiq Bokhari. The Robot has enabled them to cut down steel utilization by 50%.
Solar Panels normally account for around a third of the cost of a single-axis power plant, this is due to a fall in the technology used for this in recent years. A focus is now placed on cutting system costs. This includes the installation and the maintenance. The goal of any company here is to make the price competitive with fossil fuel power. QBotix certainly seem to have down a fantastic job here, the cost of their robot is only a couple of cents a watt.
The system can be purchased from QBotix in a 300-kilowatt unit. This bundle includes a robot, a back-up robot, the steel track and the tracking stands for the solar panels. The robots are powered by lithium ion batteries and are GPS enabled. This enables them to communicate the operations of the solar power plant. No pricing information has been revealed for the system.
Each individual robot is able to adjust 200 solar panel arrays within 40 minutes. It consumes around 30 cents of electricity a day, which means that it is very cost effective.
In the future the robots hold promise to extend their reach to small-scale energy production. This is because the QBotix system does not require the land to be level or graded in order to function. Installers will also not need to dig trenches to bury the wiring as it runs through a conduit parallel to the monorail system.
QBotix has already managed to sign up a number of customers, however they won’t be identified until the launch of the first deal in October.
Investors are certainly interested in this idea. The company has generated almost $7.5 million in funding. This includes around $6.5 million from large venture capital companies NEA and Firelake Capital. Other investors include Siemens and DFJ JAIC.
The company has indicated that this is more than enough funding to begin commercial funding. The robots are currently being produced in Menlo Park at the QBotix Headquarters. This is a ‘non-descript’ building, and passing by you wouldn’t realise that the future of energy production could be happening right there.
As Bokhari claims, “The days where you had to put hundreds of millions of dollars in a solar company to make it swing positive, those days are over”
If you are even remotely interested about solar power, expect to hear much more about this technology in the coming months.