AI for Good blog

Solar robots leading a path to a sustainable energy future

Energy | Environment & Climate change | Robotics for Good

by Irina Timoshenko  

Climate action and the transition to a sustainable society demands that we not only conserve resources but also reduce and optimize global energy consumption. The rapid growth of the world’s population and the emergence of new services are leading to a new paradigm of energy efficient consumption.  

Solar energy is proving to be one path towards affordable and clean energy.  

The AI for Good webinar, “Accelerating the solar transition with autonomous robots,” explored how AI-powered robotics can accelerate the future of solar energy, making it more affordable and contributing to the goal of net-zero emissions. 

“Unprecedented amounts of solar are due to be rolled out globally and in a very short space of time they can combat the effects of climate change. And of course, autonomous robots and AI solutions are key to doing this,” said Benjamin Clarke, Business Analyst at SolarPower Europe.

The world has seen a lot of changes over the last decade. The production of solar panels is now increasingly high quality, highly efficient and cost-effective. 

 “The reality was almost science fiction just a few years ago but with the rapidly changing trendsin the solar space, companies have no choice but to manage change, adapt new technologies in order to stay ahead of the game,” agreed Eran Meller, Co-founder and Chairman of Ecoppia. 

Credit: Ecoppia

Indeed, the competitive landscape is changing with “…numerous multibillion dollar companies entering that space… No one is willing to miss this significant opportunity,” highlighted Meller.  

He pointed out that the solar space transformation is becoming more rapid: “…the evolution of the solar space means automation [which implies] more than staying in the game. It is a key driver to unlock future growth and profitability… Automation is the future. It is here today.”  

Key issues guiding the solar transition  

Unfortunately, there are many issues the solar construction field faces today, including labor shortages, schedule and quality, mentioned Amanda Sgroi, Director of Autonomy at Sarcos Technology & Robotics Corporation.  

While talking about Sarcos Robotics’ Outdoor Automation Manipulation project, Sgroi said their “primary objective is to achieve soft-cost reduction by optimizing the flow of [photovoltaic] modules from delivery to installation.” She believes that using AI in the solar industry can lead to improved labor productivity, injury reduction, production consistency and increased quality.  

Credit: Sarcos

Tadhg S. O’Donovan, Deputy Vice Principal at the Heriot-Watt University – Dubai Campus, highlighted another challenge in solar construction which is “to design and develop that system and to optimize its performance against economic factors, energy, or power factors… While solutions differ depending on our location, it is the approach that we take that really helps to endeavor the consistency in what we are trying to achieve.” 

There are many metrics, from the angle of orientation of a panel to the variability of the climate in different parts of the world, that must be considered and which result in a multi-variable and complex optimization problem.  

“This is where we take full advantage of AI [by training] our neural networks to help us in our design process, to optimize and… improve performance and better predict the yield. With better prediction you can have more confidence in your investment, and generally more confidence will mean lower investment costs,” said Tadhg S. O’Donovan, Deputy Vice Principal at the Heriot-Watt University – Dubai Campus

He is sure that “the use of robotics and scheduling is great importance to the overall efficacy and efficiency of performance.”  

Sustainable development for climate action and clean energy   

Sustainability and solutions for vegetation management is another point to consider when it comes to solar energy construction.  

“The outdoor world needs to be maintained,” says Tim Lichti, Co-Founder & CEO of Swap Robotics. “Solar is the cheapest form of new power generation. However, after the solar farm is built, the biggest expense that is ongoing is cutting the grass and the vegetation.”  

To improve sustainability and deal with labor shortage, Swap Robotics originally developed world’s first 100% electric robots for sidewalk snow plowing that were then transformed for vegetation management for utility scale solar farms. “We are starting with solar vegetation cutting. We have developed these robots with different attachments and have them swapped out for many different cases,” claimed Lichti. 

Credit: Swap Robotics

“There is a lot of potential for using AI… Clean affordable energy is what we are working towards,” Tim Lichti, Co-Founder & CEO of Swap Robotics

The AI for Good webinar emphasized the idea that the growth in use of artificial intelligence is an important task for ensuring sustainable development and pointed out that it is new innovations that are driving solar energy production and efficiency. 

To learn more about AI and solar energy, watch the full webinar below. Follow AI for Good to stay informed about the latest developments in AI and robotics.