Automating the Solar Buildout

May 18, 2023

Canary Media:

The staggering amount of utility-scale solar that must be built in the coming decade to meet net-zero targets is going to require new construction methods that make use of robots and automation.

In 2022, about 12 gigawatts of utility-scale solar capacity was installed in the U.S., according to the Solar Energy Industries Association — but 358 gigawatts of new solar capacity is expected to be deployed between 2023 and 2030, driven by the incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act, according to the latest New Energy Outlook from BloombergNEF.

Annual installations could expand to more than 100 gigawatts per year by 2030, according to some projections.

“If we’re going to build 100 gigawatts of solar a year, we just don’t have enough humans or time to get that done,” said Gregg Wallace, a partner at venture capital firm Building Ventures. ​“We need superhuman speed, but there are simply not enough workers for the level of renewable energy buildout we need to meet our own promised goals and to keep up with China,” he said.

That’s one of the reasons that Wallace’s firm invested in San Francisco–based Built Robotics, a startup that uses robots in construction projects and utility-scale solar installations. Built’s trenching robots have already helped install more than 2 gigawatts of solar capacity across the country, according to the company.

“When we first started working on solar projects, we were putting in trenching for [alternating-current] and [direct-current] lines, but we found that there was a lot more that could be automated, because a solar farm is a very consistent building environment,” said Erol Ahmed, director of communications at Built Robotics. ​“You’re placing consistent panels at consistent intervals on a consistent grid. It lends itself well to what autonomy can do today.”

The structural foundation of a large solar farm is built by driving tens of thousands of heavy steel beams into the soil, each of which must be accurately pounded into the ground at depths of up to eight feet. It’s a construction step at the core of almost every large solar project (with the exception of Erthos’ ground-mounted solar panels).

Built Robotics aims to use one integrated machine for all the steps of this process: surveying, pile distribution, pile-driving and inspection. The company claims that solar foundations can be constructed three to five times faster with its system than with traditional methods.

Below, more on some different methods of solar installation, and how solar saves soil.


2 Responses to “Automating the Solar Buildout”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Field automation has another advantage in increasingly hotter working conditions.

  2. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Remember kids, call before you dig drive piles.

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