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QBotix system uses mobile robots to optimize solar panel orientation

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September 11, 2012

The 'Solbot' optimizes the orientation of the solar panel in relation to the sun

The 'Solbot' optimizes the orientation of the solar panel in relation to the sun

Image Gallery (3 images)

Although solar trackers can significantly increase the energy output of solar cells by keeping them optimally aligned to the sun, installing them on all the panels at an installation can add significant expense and provides multiple points of failure. A new tracking system from QBotix avoids these problems by getting a robot to do the rounds of the solar installation throughout the day and adjust the panels at 40-minute intervals to ensure they are optimally facing the sun.

The QBotix Tracking System (QTS) essentially takes the individual motors and controllers traditionally placed on each panel mount and replaces them with a pair of autonomous mobile robots – one primary and one back up. These “Solbots” contain the motors and controllers required to physically realign the panels and travel from panel to panel on a rail, adjusting each panel as they go. The tracks can be laid on ground without extensive grading required and the system is modular, so the tracks can be extended if more panels are added.

The Solbot returns to its home after completing its rounds

QBotix says its Solbots are dustproof and waterproof (to IP-65 rating) and can monitor and operate a 300 kW solar array. However, the panels do need to be mounted on QBotix designed mounting system that is compatible with the robots. But the company says its trackers are compatible with all standard solar modules, inverters and foundation types used in ground-mounted solar installations. The trackers are also purely mechanical with no motors or electronic components, reducing the chances of a breakdown.

The QTS is a dual-axis tracking system that follows the sun vertically and horizontally. QBotix claims it will generate up to 40 percent more energy than fixed mount systems, and up to 15 percent more energy than existing single-axis systems – this is despite being comparable in cost to existing single-axis systems. It is available for commercial photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated photovoltaic (CV) installations.

The first video below shows how the QTS works and, just because everything looks better in time-lapse, we’ve embedded a second video that shows the QTS tracking over the course of a day.

Source: QBotix

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About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
10 Comments

Since all the panels need to point the same direction this seems way too elaborate. Wouldn't it just be easier to have all the panel's angles controlled by a common cable or two rather than have a robot railway? I know which one i would rather repair.

Michaelc
11th September, 2012 @ 03:38 am PDT

I disagree Michaelc: The QBotix system looks very simple, with no motors or sensors on each panel mounting. The alignment of the monorail between the units is claimed to be flexible, only having to carry the robot agent between separately calibrated tasks. That will be much easier to set up and maintain than any mechanical linkage between panel units, and orders of magnitude simpler than having individual motors, sensors and controllers on each mount.

Mark Townend
11th September, 2012 @ 05:51 am PDT

Michael, you take the words out of my mouth: cables are not as sexy as robots, I guess:)

sinan
11th September, 2012 @ 06:21 am PDT

Wait.... "The trackers are also purely mechanical with no motors or electronic components, reducing the chances of a breakdown." How do there robots work if there is no motors or electronics?

Bamboozler
11th September, 2012 @ 07:00 am PDT

There are two axis of movement. In my latitude, the range would be from as low as 60 degree, to 30 degree north of flat. Thus there is 90 degree travel if one wants the summer and winter extremes. Actually about 60 degree would get an estimated 98% benefit .

Likewise to get about 95% of the day sun, it would need to travel about 45 degree, east of south and west of south, or 90 total.

I am working on a common mount with push and pull rods that will be hydraulically adjusted and yet be robust enough for storms. I plan on a Seimens S7-1200 controller and probably a dedicated PC. I can envision a setting for storms that place it in the best possible position for rough winds, hail or the like.

Eventually even a program can network with weather prediction to make future planning decisions, not only react to what is already occuring.

Perhaps someone has seen a hybrid active hot water and PV system or absorbtion amonia system?

Seilertechco
11th September, 2012 @ 08:28 am PDT

What the point unless you have enough storage which of course dissipation is still the case. Solar does not rely on heat, but it is of far more concern to hold the energy for longer rather then hunt down were the sun moves

Uavs guided by sensing robots in the tasks of crop dusting and water etc are the only robots that belong in such places

Richardf
11th September, 2012 @ 01:39 pm PDT

I agree Michaelc: this robot is doing allot of work and it seems it would be a high wear item. small actuators on each panel seem to me would track faster and maximize the panels potential and would make mowing a tad bit nicer.

Hey make the robot a mower also that will sell it, talk to Ron Popeil , it slices and dices and it's only $19.95 BUT WAIT ! there's more it mows too.

Jay Finke
11th September, 2012 @ 01:56 pm PDT

I agree Michaelc. Far too much work given the duty cycle of panels. One full cycle every 40 daylight minutes for 20 years = good luck. The real world throws too many surprises for an exposed system like this.

Mark Townsend: A better design might use linkage, with the bot doing the initial calibration - the most difficult part of a linked tracker installation. The bot could then retire to its den and guide the entire array from relative safety. If panel or array output (dependent on monitoring) drop below predicted norms the bot could make a calibration run.

cyrnel
11th September, 2012 @ 04:05 pm PDT

Those of you agreeing with Michaelc didn't read the article.

There is a single track. A bit of metal. No maintenance on that really.

There is a single vehicle that travels on that track. That vehicle, call it a robot if you like, has a couple of motors and a "prodder" that moves the panel into position.

Therefore your maintenance consists of having a look to see if the track is clear and a couple of motors. You could easily have several spare "robots" and just replace them as needed.

If you go with what you propose you are right back at the problem this solves: Many points of failure and many complex mechanical systems to replace and calibrate.

Scion
11th September, 2012 @ 09:48 pm PDT

How much does the tracking system cost compared to covering the whole area with solar collectors?

What would the output difference be?

With metamaterial is tracking even desirable? especially if you consider keeping light that is harmful (UV) and just useless off the collector.

Pikeman
11th September, 2012 @ 11:10 pm PDT
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