A Silicon Valley startup using robots to install solar panels has secured a roughly $1 million grant from the Department of Energy.
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Brittmore Group, based in San Jose, Calif., is focused on bringing more automation to the installation of large-scale solar power plants.
“We developed a system for constructing the power plants very quickly and with a very small workforce,” says CEO and founder Bram Britcher. Robots are used to do the heavy lifting of solar panels, and can shuttle panels to their installation locations at a rate of 10 miles per hour. The end result? Britcher says Brittmore is able to install power plants 20 times faster than traditional methods.
The Small Business Innovation Research grant Brittmore Group received earlier this month is the second government grant the company has received. In total, Britcher says the company has received nearly $1.5 million from the Department of Energy.
The grant will help Brittmore Group move closer to commercializing its robotic installation process, as it takes steps toward larger solar projects in California.
The government funding has been welcomed with open arms by the four-year-old startup. Aside from the Department of Energy grants, Brittmore Group has been entirely bootstrapped by the owners.
“In order to control costs, we actually machined a lot of the original parts ourselves for the robot,” says Britcher, who says the team initially rented a small office at a local incubator.
“Then, we developed the first prototype, and got a functioning system that we showed to the Department of Energy,” he explains, which helped the new startup secure grant funding.
Despite the challenges that come with bootstrapping a high-tech startup, Britcher is optimistic about the future of his company and of the solar power industry as a whole.
“2014 looks very good, and the next several years look very good. Costs continue to come down,” says Britcher. “I think there are situations already where renewable energy is equal [in cost] with fossil fuels, and I think it’s going to be pretty widespread.”