With the price of solar modules already at historic lows, project developers and EPC’s are increasingly looking for new ways to increase their profitability (project IRR’s) or lower their LCOE to remain competitive in what is expected to be a strong growth year for the industry. Mounting and tracking systems have historically taken up a sizable chunk of balance of systems (BOS) budgets for solar power projects. Our company, QBotix, has found a simple way to significantly increase project value by boosting production while keeping costs low.
As way of background, we do this through a new approach – the use of robotics. Our Robotic Tracking System (RTS) employs a pair of autonomous, mobile and rugged robots that travel on a rail and adjust each tracker periodically to optimally face the sun, instead of relying on individual motors for each unit. This allows us to create a system optimized for system cost, reliability and performance.
The result is that the RTS produces up to 45 percent more energy than fixed mount systems, and up to 15 percent more than single-axis tracking systems. This results in project capital expenditure savings of up to 20 percent. For example, instead of investing $50M in a project to deliver target annual energy (MWh) production, the same energy could be produced by a $40M investment. In addition to project cost savings of up to 20 percent, RTS offers high system reliability and ease of installation in an all in one solution. It is worth mentioning that RTS works with all modules, inverters and other system components, so the benefit is truly additive to the benefit provided by other system components.
For a visual illustration of RTS, please see the video below:
We believe robotics are the next fundamental step for commercial and utility scale systems because they address two significant shortcomings of traditional tracking systems: suboptimal use of materials and limited system intelligence.
Traditional tracking systems use materials sub-optimally — they tend to be massive, expensive, failure prone and difficult to install. The fundamental reason for sub-optimal material use is the traditional goal to have each actuation and control system track as many modules as possible; hence, large surface areas and resulting large forces. The alternative is having motors and control systems for many smaller trackers, which results in significant actuation costs and lower reliability. QBotix has solved this problem through our out-of-the-box approach, which results in optimal material usage leading to lowered system costs and ease of installation.
Conventional tracking systems also have limited system intelligence and flexibility of system behavior. The use of robotics like ours dramatically enhances the intelligence of power plant to enable optimized solar tracking, which delivers maximized energy production for each location, automatically adjusting for local weather, shading, land area constraints and other effects that impact energy production.
For the remainder of the year, I will be posting monthly on solar tracking systems, robotics, and market trends, to encourage discussion. We all agree that the industry needs to continue to innovate in order to make solar increasingly competitive with conventional energy generation, and to increase our deployment globally. We hope that with RTS we are making a valuable contribution to progress of our industry. With the above introduction out of the way, I’ll mainly be devoting this blog to the technological and financial challenges impacting solar project economics, how they are being met, and forecast where the industry is heading. I hope you will join us.