Automation Reaches Solar Industry

| Manufacturing

Coverage of solar farms can be achieved in shorter spaces of time using panel laying robots

Solar energy industry explores automation as an alternative for constructing solar energy farms

Acres of solar panels need to be laid in often remote locations as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible so Blattner explored the obvious direction of robotic installations.

For this, the company approached Sarcos Technology and Robotics Corporation and the two organisations have been focusing on the development and refinement of Sarcos’ autonomous mobile robotic system designed to enhance the efficiency of the installation of photovoltaic (PV) modules for utility-scale solar projects.

Like many other industries, the solar construction sector is currently suffering from significant worker shortages, which started during the pandemic and is still showing no signs of recovery.

“Our autonomous robotic solar construction system is expected to ease these workforce challenges while improving overall safety and speed in the solar installation process,” says Laura Peterson, Interim President and CEO, Sarcos.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), on the backdrop of this workforce deficit, annual solar installations will need to increase by 60% through until 2030 in order to meet climate targets, which would require nearly 800,000 new solar workers to meet this goal.

Blattner therefore chose the automation route to meet the aggressive climate targets while providing a positive and healthy work environment for its growing project teams.

Autonomous Manipulation of Photovoltaic Panels

The Sarcos Outdoor Autonomous Manipulation of Photovoltaic Panels (O-AMPP) project, which is funded through the support of the US Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO), aims to streamline the process of solar field construction. The robotic system is being designed and developed to deliver, detect, lift, and place PV modules in the field.

The O-AMPP system will enable a smaller installation team to install modules at a substantially higher rate and robotic handling of modules will ensure that as modules are picked up and placed, they are consistently supported and positioned, resulting in less module breakage.

The two companies are also evaluating and further refining the technology, functionality, and safety of this system through a series of field trials that will occur over the next several years in which Blattner will provide funding, expertise, and facilities for testing. The companies intend to test the system through varying environmental conditions across different sites in preparation for Sarcos’ commercial launch of the system, currently estimated for late 2024.

Jonathan Newell
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