Autonomous robots are gaining traction with solar installers



Sarcos Robotics and Terabase Energy recently announced key business developments highlighting how Installation Robots are increasingly moving from test centers to the field.

As the United States seeks a wholesale transition from an energy system based on fossil fuels to an energy system defined by renewable energy sources, it is an all-hands-on-deck scenario to stay on track to meet climate goals. Some of these hands may turn out to be robots.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) estimates that 800,000 new solar workers will be needed by 2030 to build the projects the U.S. needs to keep pace with its decarbonization plan. However, 44% of employers in the solar energy industry report it According to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), it is “extremely difficult” to find qualified applicants.

With this challenge in mind, solar developers are increasingly researching and deploying autonomous, robotic versions of solar installers, especially for utility use. Two companies that recently moved are Terabase Energy and Sarcos Robotics Corp.

Terabase secures the financing

Terabase Energy, the developer of the Terafab automated installation system, says it recently received $25 million in funding. The fundraising was led by Prelude Ventures, SJF Ventures and EDP Ventures to support the commercial expansion of its technology.

The company describes Terafab as an automated “field factory” that can double the productivity of an installation. The installation system utilizes digital twins, logistics software, an on-site digital command center, an automated assembly line in the field, and installation drivers that can operate 24/7.

An automated ATV installs solar panels at Terabase’s “field factory”. Photo: Terabase

Terabase also opened a manufacturing facility this year in Woodland, Calif., which it described as “factories that make factories.” The plant is currently manufacturing the first gigawatt Terafab assembly line with a capacity of more than 10 GW Terafabs per year.

Terabase said its system doubles labor productivity compared to traditional electrical installation methods. The system offers high performance, 24/7 operation and modularity that enables rapid ramp-ups and higher solar field construction speeds, significantly reducing project schedules.

“We successfully field tested Terafab last year by building 10 MW of a 400 MW plant in Texas,” said Matt Campbell, CEO and co-founder of Terabase. “(This) launch is the next step forward in rapid commercial scale.”

Terafab is tied for commercial use in the third quarter of 2023. According to the company, the automated installation system lowers the levelized cost of electricity for utility-scale solar projects. It’s also scalable, built on a modular structure that can be quickly replicated and deployed.

Blattner and Sarcos

Blattner Company recently partnered with Sarcos Robotics to optimize worker safety and improve the efficiency of solar module installation for utility solar projects.

“We are very optimistic about the use of robots in solar construction to help solve labor shortages, productivity and safety challenges that are currently slowing the progress of U.S. solar projects,” said Matt Hadsell, Blattner’s vice president of innovation and development.

Sarcos proof of concept robotic system consists of an autonomous work vehicle with the company’s Guardian XM robotic arm and an autonomous delivery vehicle. The solution uses cameras to identify where the solar panels must be installed. The robotic arm then autonomously lifts the panel up using a vacuum system and places it approximately where it needs to be attached to the mounting structure.

“The arm then moves into a special position where the person attaching the panel can easily move the panel as desired to align it and attach it to the panels,” Sarcos explains in a video on his website.

The partnership builds on the Sarcos Outdoor Autonomous Manipulation of Photovoltaic Panels (O-AMPP) project, funded with support from the US Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technology Office (SETO). The O-AMPP project started in 2021 and Sarcos plans to commercialize its solution by the end of 2024.

David is a passionate writer and researcher who specializes in solar energy. He has a strong background in engineering and environmental science, which gives him a deep understanding of the science behind solar power and its benefits. David writes about the latest developments in solar technology and provides practical advice for homeowners and businesses who are interested in switching to solar.

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