Robots That Reduce Solar Panels Cost

The labor money for installing the solar panels is very expensive which affect the cost of solar power, using a robot for installing the solar panels will surely lessen the cost, plus other benefits that the robot can work day and night and in any weather. PV Kraftwerker and Gehrlicher is a German company that is producing robots that can install the solar panels.

The main idea is to save money on labor, which accounts for a growing fraction of the cost of solar power as panels get cheaper. According to PV Kraftwerker, a construction firm specializing in solar parks, installations that used to require 35 workers can now be done with just three workers in an eighth the time.

For a 14-megawatt solar plant, the company estimates, it might cost about $2 million to install the panels manually. Using the robot could cut that cost by nearly half. The company says that the robot, which lists for $900,000, could pay for itself in less than a year of steady use.

Robotic help could be a plus given Germany’s ambitious plans to get a third of its electricity from renewable sources within eight years and 80 percent by 2050 (see “The Great German Energy Experiment”). Germany led the world in solar installations in 2011, putting up panels capable of generating around 7.5 gigawatts and covering an estimated 50 square kilometers of ground and rooftops.

PV Kraftwerker built its robot from off-the-shelf Japanese components. The machinery consists of a robotic arm mounted on an all-terrain vehicle with tanklike tracks. Suction cups grip the glass face of the solar panels and the arm swings them into place, guided by cameras that give the robot a three-dimensional view of the scene.

The robot’s limitations give a glimpse of how hard it’s going to be to completely automate the installation process. Much solar power in Germany is generated by rooftop arrays, but the shape and orientation of roofs is too varied for robots to handle. Even for small solar farms and those using ordinary-size panels, human workers are both faster and cheaper than the robot, says Markus Gattenlöhner, head of marketing at PV Kraftwerker.

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