A Brighter Future with Solar Robots?

The robots are invading … solar power plants.

According to startup QBotix, the future of solar power lies in the hands of robots that can adjust solar panels to better capture the sun’s rays.

“[T]he ideal way to extract the maximum amount of energy from a solar panel is to make the solar panel move just like a sunflower, so it follows the sun – and that’s what our system does,” says CEO and founder Wasiq Bokhari. He says QBotix’s robotic systems, which adjust solar panels on a grid every 40 minutes, help produce up to 40% more energy from solar panels. The company launched its first system in 2011.

“[Fixed panels] are not the most optimal way of extracting energy from a solar panel, and the reason is that they point in one fixed direction … but the sun moves across the sky over the course of the day and over the course of the year,” says Bokhari.

The Menlo Park-based startup sits at the cross-section of two lucrative and growing industries. According to the International Federation for Robotics, the global market value for robot systems in 2012 was $26 billion, while the value of U.S. sales increased by 2%. And solar energy is also on the rise, with the Solar Energy Industries Association reporting a 35% year-over-year increase in solar panel deployment in the U.S. in the third quarter of 2013.

QBotix systems are currently operating in five solar power farms between the U.S. and Japan; Bokhari estimates this figure will double in 2014.

“It’s a very competitive industry, and people look for any sort of advantage that a system can provide … and our system provides the most dramatic advantage …” says Bokhari.

QBotix has raised $12.5 million from venture capital firms like Firelake, NEA and Siemens Venture Capital.