Qbotix Sees Tiny Robots Reducing Solar Costs, Boosting Output

(Corrects to remove reference to SunPower Corp. (SPWR) in seventh paragraph of story published Sept. 3.)

Qbotix Inc., a closely held robotics company, is developing systems that may cut the cost of energy from solar farms by as much as 20 percent.

Its robotics technology is an alternative to currently available dual-axis or single-axis tracking systems, which rotate solar panels toward the sun to increase energy production, according to Wasiq Bokhari, Qbotix’s chief executive officer.

“We are the first company to use mobile, intelligent robots to operate solar power plants,” he said in a phone interview.

Qbotix has developed battery-powered robots that ride on a monorail around arrays of solar panels and link up with each to mechanically tilt them toward the sun, performing the same function as standard tracking systems without the need for extra steel and motors. The systems will cost about the same as standard single-axis trackers, Bokhari said, without disclosing the price.

“The benefit we provide is that, without any cost difference, the project owners can generate 8 to 15 percent more energy compared to single-axis tracking systems and 30 to 40 percent more energy than fixed-mount systems,” Bokhari said.

The technology may reduce the levelized cost of solar energy by as much as 20 percent compared to projects without tracking systems, Qbotix said today in a statement.

Each robot can manage 300 kilowatts of panels and costs “a few cents a watt,” Bokhari said. Standard single-axis tracking systems usually cost about 35 cents to 45 cents a watt, and dual-axis systems cost more, he said.

Prototype Complete

The company completed a grid-connected prototype last year and operated it for more than nine months “to show that the system indeed has the cost and reliability benefits that we talk about,” Bokhari said. The company will begin selling its “next-generation” systems this month, he said.

Qbotix, based in Menlo Park, California, has raised $7.5 million since 2010 from New Enterprise Associates Inc., Firelake Capital Management LLC, Siemens Venture Capital GmbH, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and angel investors, Bokhari said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Herndon in San Francisco at aherndon2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net

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