Robots are being built in Germany that could help reduce solar panel installation costs and time. The project is currently being developed by two companies, PV Kraftwerker and Gehrlicher, and permits faster and cheaper installations, making it possible to also work in non-optimal weather conditions or at night.
The project provides for the construction of robots capable of working automatically in installing solar power systems on the ground: the initial expense could be recouped in less than one year of steady use.
How does it work? The robot is built with Japanese components and comprises a mechanical arm with suction cups at the end. It can lift and position the solar panels, guided by a series of video cameras that provide a sort of “three-dimensional view”. The machinery is mounted on a track vehicle capable of operating on any type of terrain.
The robot is designed to assemble solar power systems with panels that are four times the size of those installed on residential rooftops. The idea is to save money on labor, which accounts for a growing fraction of the cost of solar energy, unlike the cost of the panels that is dropping. According to the robot’s manufacturer, PV Kraftwerker, the installation of a system that used to require 35 workers can now be done by just three workers in one eighth the time and at roughly half the cost.
While ideal for ground systems, there are still some difficulties for mounting solar panels on rooftops: the shape of the surfaces vary too much, making traditional manual labor still cheaper and more efficient at this time, also because workers are indispensable for attaching the metal frame, screwing the panels to the frame and making the electrical connections.
As Technology Review reports, PV Kraftwerker and other companies are developing robots which, guided by GPS, may also be capable of installing the frames for the panels. The idea is to eliminate the need for the solar panels to be screwed in, that would instead be glued to the frame, even allowing robots to make the electrical connections. Michigan This type of robot could be useful for bringing electricity to areas with difficult weather or environmental conditions. One example is Japan, which has commissioned a prototype of this robot for installing solar power systems in the contaminated areas near the Fukushima nuclear plant.