Solar robot gets an optimized makeover

The jury’s still out on the Qbotix solar tracking system, the one that uses a robot that runs along on what looks like a Lilliputian monorail to adjust the panels so they’re getting maximum sun exposure.

It was only introduced last September, after all. But the company isn’t standing still – this week it introduced what it says is a better version, smaller, simpler, more efficient and more reliable.

QBotix said the first version enjoyed “rapid commercial acceptance,” put into service in the first five months of 2013 “at five commercial-scale power plants in California, Arizona, and Japan.” But those plants had a cumulative capacity of just 200 kilowatts, so we’re talking pretty small-scale, considering there are some 1,400 systems in that U.S. alone that have capacities greater than 500 kilowatts.

The second-generation solar tracking robot (image via QBotix)

Qbotix is obviousy looking to get its system into bigger arrays – it said the next generation model, the SolBot R-225, “can manage 340 kilowatts of solar panels, a 13 percent improvement over the SolBot R-200.” Here’s more of the sales pitch:

The SolBot R-225 is also smaller, lighter and requires fewer components than its predecessor, which increases reliability and allows the SolBot to operate in a wider variety of extreme environmental conditions. Additionally, the tracking rail for the SolBot R-225 consists of two preassembled pieces rather than multiple parts so it can be quickly snapped together on site.

Qbotix competes against solar tracking systems that use motors for individual panels or sets of panels. When it introduced the earlier model it said it would deliver the equivalent of expensive dual-axis tracking systems – which follow the sun both horizontally and vertically – at the cost of less pricey single-axis trackers, which can only move vertically or horizontally.The result was 15 percent more energy than a single-axis tracking system delivers, at the same price.

Now, “(b)y reducing the number of moving parts in the SolBot, we have been able to boost the performance of the SolBot by a number of measures, which in turn will improve the performance of solar power plants,” Wasiq Bokhari, CEO and founder of the company, said in a statement. “This is really a situation where less is more.”

Investors seem to have faith; Qbotix also said that  ”it has raised an additional $5 million from existing investors NEA, Firelake Capital and DFJ JAIC, bringing the total invested in the company to $12.5 million.” Earlier, the company received a $1 million research grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot initiative.

* Pete Danko, EarthTechling