ORLANDO — It’s an ongoing debate: Some experts believe that the solar industry will progress with efficiency improvements, while other think completely new technology is the answer. Wasiq Bokhari is on team technology. He is the CEO and founder of QBotix – a company touting a new tracking innovation that Bokhari believes can significantly increase margins and allow for easier installation and increased deployment.
Watch Bokhari discuss the QBotix technology at Solar Power International, along with an animated demonstration, in the video below:
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Balance of systems (BOS) accounts for about 50 percent of the installed cost of a solar system. A traditional tracking system, whether single or double axis, consists of a pair of motors installed on many trackers in the system. This creates many failure points throughout the system, which can be very difficult to maintain and ultimately reduces efficiency.
The QBotix system consists of 200 trackers, which equal about 300 kilowatts (kW), and two robots, one primary and one backup, which travel on a steel monorail to each tracker. The monorails also contain two charging points for the robots. A robot travels along the rail every 40 minutes to adjust each tracker individually throughout the day. The steel rail also carries the system’s wiring, which eliminates the need for trenching.
Because QBotix is streamlined with a robot, the entire system uses less steel – a major price driver for tracking systems. According to Bokhari, the QBotix system is roughly half the cost of double-axis trackers and the same cost as single-axis. “And because of that price parity of the single-axis trackers, we are able to achieve an LOC reduction of up to 20 percent compared to fixed systems,” explained Bokhari.
The robot itself is made of water- and dust-resistant components. “You can put [the robot] under a high-pressure water hose for 30 minutes and no waste will get in,” explained Bokhari. “Or you can put it in a high-pressure chamber with very fine talcum power and nothing will get in.”
The system is also weather-resistant. The steel system is designed to withstand high wind loads for the life of the project, about 20 to 25 years, while the robot can withstand temperatures as low as -30 degrees Celsius and as high as 60 degrees Celsius.
The robot collects performance and reliability data that allows it to optimize the performance of each tracker, and ultimately the entire system. It also contains built-in GPS sensors, memory capabilities and wireless communications. “It is almost like a doctor going from patient to patient that is able to assess the critical data from every patient,” said Bokhari.
As for maintenance, if the robot malfunctions the backup immediately takes its place, which means there is no tracking loss. The robots are also easily replaceable, which does not require skilled labor. “The robot is like a black box traveling on the rail, so it can easily be swapped out just like a spare tire,” said Bokhari.
The system comes preassembled and can be used with any standard foundation and solar panel. And because it is much lower to the ground heavy machinery is not necessary for installation. It can be installed on ungraded land, sloped land, curved land, which, according to Bokhari, is not possible with other systems.
So is QBotix what the solar industry needs to move forward? Can it truly lower system costs enough for people to notice?
Bokhari said the target market is distributed generation, and then move on to utility-scale. “We will start with deployments going up to a few megawatts. Because our system is modular we can easily put together a larger system,” said Bokhari. “After that, our customers can use our system as they start building larger power plants.”