Qbotix, founded in 2010 on a simple principle, is preparing to deploy its first dual-axis solar tracking robots.
The company announced $6.5 million in financing from NRA, Firelake Capital, Siemens Venture Capital and DFJ JAIC.
Founder Wasiq Bokhari is an academic with a PHD from MIT turned entrepreneur, said QBotix spokesman Michael Kanellos.
“The company, weirdly enough, started with the realization that the sun moves across the sky slowly,” Kanellos said.
Solar developers have worked to put trackers on solar panels for years. And there are a lot of solar trackers on the market that work and increase energy output. The problem is that putting individual motors on panels is expensive and creates a lot of little parts on hundreds or thousands of solar panels that can break.
“Dual axis trackers are particularly expensive because you have to supersize the panels to pay the cost of the motor off,” Kanellos said. “That means tons of cement and steel. Some dual axis solar panels are the size of tennis courts.”
So, Bokhari started looking for a more affordable way to make solar panels follow the sun. That’s where the realization that the sun moves slowly came in to point the way.
“Wasiq, and the head designer Lalo Ruiz and others, reasoned that you only have to move solar panels every few minutes,” Kanellos said. “You can move them every four minutes or as infrequently as every 40 minutes, depending on the energy you’re trying to achieve.”
That led them to the idea of a mobile motor or robot that could travel from panel to panel and turn them each individually. That would allow developers to use standard solar panels.
They also realized developers want data and want to be able to see how their solar fields are performing.
“The robot has a ton of processing power and sensors,” Kanellos said. “So it became a data harvesting device, too.”
The company has been developing the robot for the last two years and expects to deploy its first ones this year. Interest has been strong, Kanellos said. The robot itself, not including the track is runs on or installation, will only add about 2 cents per watt to the cost.
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