It?s no surprise that Germany?one of the world?s top photovoltaics (PV) installers and home to Friedburg, the world?s first ?solar city??would be the first country to use a robot for installing solar parks. And the robot is now being introduced in the U.S.
Since the bottom recently fell out of the PV market, in large part due to China?s overproduction of cheap solar panels, installation has become the chief money-maker for the U.S. solar panel industry. Momo?s efficiency could deliver immediate results in the domestic market, and affect a substantial number of jobs if the robot is adapted for residential installations.
A solar park (or solar farm) is a power station that generates energy utilizing solar panels and inverters, connected to an electricity transmission grid.
Some large photovoltaic power stations like Waldpolenz Solar Park and Topaz Solar Farm cover tens or hundreds of hectares and have power outputs up to hundreds of megawatts. Most farms are expected to last 20-25 years, and accelerated installation has occurred world wide as countries work toward grid parity.
Building open area solar parks is mostly manual work. Identical processes are repeated hundreds of thousands of times, so PV-Kraftwerker has been looking into automation options for some time. Using robots to set up a 14 megawatt solar park can potentially cuts costs from $2,000,000 to $900,000, while being constructed in eight times faster with only three human workers instead of 35. At the Intersolar North America exhibition in San Francisco, the company will present their solar park building robot, “Momo”, for the first time in the USA.
Momo, a mobile assembly robot, can tackle the whole building process. It is particularly suitable for large area assemblies, where installers face difficult terrain and have to cover large distances. The robot moves to the designated site, supplied with all the necessary photovoltaic modules, assembles the photovoltaic unit and moves on to the next one.
Listing the benefits, Eberhard Schulz reckons that “with Momo, hardly any modules suffer breakages, programming eliminates assembly errors and fitters no longer suffer from assembly related injuries.” The Managing Director of the PV-Kraftwerker Ltd, based in Germany, believes that this should equate to an 80 percent improvement in efficiency. Maintenance and cleaning work, as well as system removal, could also be carried out in similar fashion.
The gripper system, equipped with sensors, enables the fully automated assembly of modules on substructures in any terrain. A three-dimensional camera, mounted on the gripper or a support tool, captures the complete assembly process of the modules and adjusts any deviation from the defined standard with millimeter accuracy. Deviations may originate from inaccurately drilled holes in the framework or slightly offset substructures in open terrain, for example on difficult ground.
“With Momo, hardly any modules suffer breakages, programming eliminates assembly errors and fitters no longer suffer from assembly related injuries.” Eberhard Schulz, Managing Director of PV-Kraftwerker Ltd
Highlighting the level of skill and product knowledge incorporated in his development, Schulz maintains, “Momo can cope with tricky terrain and gradients with great accuracy.” Special interface software converts the data captured by the sensors into coordinates which Momo interprets. Gripper and camera are coordinated with each other, so that they quickly and reliably capture the position on the substructures, enabling accurate assembly of each module.
Subject to the size of a photovoltaic power generator, this process may be repeated 100,000-times. In the course of the work, the assembly robot can cover up to 70 kilometers per assembly. When removing a photovoltaic power generator, the assembly system operates in reverse order. This enables modules to be reused, as they will be protected from damage. In addition, this unique solution from PV-Kraftwerker enables assembly around the clock, regardless of weather conditions.
Its world premiere Momo had at the Intersolar Europe in Munich a few weeks ago. More than 2,000 people visited the booth of PV-Kraftwerker within the three days of the exhibition. The success was overwhelming so that Momo will have its open-air ground tests at the end of this summer. Schulz is optimistic that after passing the tests Momo is ready for series-production in the course of next year.