With equipment costs down about as low as they can go, and with constant remarks of “labor shortages,” the next step-change in solar construction CAPEX is likely to be automated panel installation. We have profiled a few such strategies over the years. The latest is coming via advanced robotic systems company Sarcos Technology and Robotics Corporation.
Sarcos just completed the final validation field trial of its Outdoor Autonomous Manipulation of Photovoltaic Panels (O-AMPP) project in collaboration with Mortenson, JLG Industries, Array Technologies, and Pratt Miller at a Mortenson project site.
“The solar construction industry is facing unprecedented labor shortages while simultaneously facing an increase in demand for solar energy,” said Trent Mostaert, vice president, industrialization, Mortenson. “We believe the O-AMPP system can address these challenges while improving safety, productivity, and efficiency for our workers.”
Sarcos expects to commercially launch its robotic solar field construction solution in 2024.
The O-AMPP project …
… began in 2021 with funding support from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO), aims to streamline the process of solar field construction into one harmonized robotic system to deliver, detect, lift, and place photovoltaic modules in the field.
The benefits for energy companies implementing the system for solar construction include lower soft costs for projects, the ability to engage in more projects simultaneously, improved construction timelines and quality, and a safer worksite that reduces the risk of injuries, including lifting and fatigue-related injuries.
During the validation of this system, a proof-of-concept O-AMPP system consisting of an Autonomous Working Vehicle (AWV) featuring the Guardian XM robotic system, and an Autonomous Delivery Vehicle (ADV), was used to optimize the flow of photovoltaic modules from delivery to installation. In addition:
- Mortenson provided critical subject matter expertise and a validation site.
- JLG Industries supplied the mobile elevating work platform used for the AWV, onto which the Guardian XM robotic system was mounted and integrated.
- Array Technologies supplied the tracker technology used in the project along with engineering resources.
- Pratt Miller provided the mobile base, leveraging their Flexible Robotic Platform with the PM-ADS autonomy system, on which the ADV prototype was built.
Mostaert believes this will also enable solar project developers to scale output and production to the levels needed to achieve the Energy Department’s 2030 and 2050 renewable energy goals. According to SEIA, annual solar installations will need to increase by 60% between now and 2030 in order to meet the Biden administration’s climate targets of solar energy reaching 30% of U.S. electricity generation by 2030. To meet this solar installation goal, SEIA estimates that an anticipated workforce expansion of nearly 900,000 new workers will be required.
“Achieving this market validation and field test milestone is a mission-critical step on our path to commercializing our robotic solar field construction solution and, ultimately, enhancing safety and productivity in the solar field construction industry,” said Kiva Allgood, president and CEO, Sarcos.