QBotix has a genuinely innovative solar solution that maximizes output and could lower balance-of-system costs in ground-mounted PV installations. The startup has invented a two-axis tracker system where the motors, instead of being installed two per tracker, are moved around by a rail-mounted robot that adjusts each tracker every 40 minutes, resulting in an enormous reduction in the number of (failure-prone) motors.
The modular system envisioned by the startup consists of 200 1.5-kilowatt trackers maintained by a hot-swappable robot and backup robot for the 300-kilowatt section. It looks like this:
The robot visits each assembly, adjusts the angle and tilt, and moves to the next pole. When its job is done, it parks itself in a little hut and dreams of electric sheep.
There’s no doubt that single-axis trackers add value to a solar farm — tracking the sun east to west can improve kilowatt-hours produced by up to 25 percent, as well as spreading generation over a wider period of time. Two-axis trackers can improve output by up to 45 percent over fixed tilt, according to the firm, but have been prohibitively expensive and come with questionable reliability. One rarely sees two-axis trackers in utility deployments except in concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) plants.
CEO Wasiq Bokhari notes that robots are tough and the robots themselves cost only $0.02 per watt. He claims they are water and dust resistant and operate across large temperature ranges. The robot also has communications capability and regularly transmits data on each tracker. He asserts that there are other functions the robots might eventually serve, as well. (Panel cleaning? Robot army defending against Skynet?)
QBotix’s product is the racking, tracking, and monitoring portion of a solar farm. That’s about one-fourth of the ingredient cost of a solar farm, according to a company source. The firm has a test deployment in Menlo Park, California, and claims it will have its first commercial deployment this month. Initial deployments could emerge as 300-kilowatt test deployments as part of larger solar power plants.