A $44 million investment from Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), founded and backed by Bill Gates, will help develop and deploy a solar energy solution through the solar startup Terabase Energy. A press statement released by PRNewswire reveals that the funding will go towards reducing the cost and increasing the scalability of solar through robotic automation. Robotic technology will be Terabase’s primary tool to develop, construct, and operate utility-scale photovoltaic power plants.
The paths of solar energy and robots have converged in different ways to drive innovation. Emerging technologies such as robotic solar panel cleaning solutions and ground robots for solar farm maintenance demonstrate the symbiotic relationship between the two fields.
Solar-powered robots find applications in large industries. For example, with the help of solar-powered robots, the security of property complexes is as convenient as ever. Because they dispense with the need for electrical wires, they can work autonomously as they patrol large areas through thermal cameras and motion detectors. The Knightscope Security robot, for instance, can provide enhanced security in vulnerable areas without the limitations of an electrical grid.
These technologies do not just exist for large-scale utility purposes. A guide to going solar by Hoymiles notes that solar power helps homeowners achieve energy independence through clean, sustainable, and cost-effective energy. Solar technology allows homeowners to save money on utility bills, reduce their carbon impact, and drive up their property’s value. Because solar panels find applications even in individual homes, robotic technologies have been developed as solutions for autonomous solar panel maintenance. Helios, for instance, is a drone and robot combination that autonomously cleans solar panels. It uses sensors to apply water and UV light to dirty spots. This kind of automated technology helps maintain panels for more prolonged use.
So what better way to maximize solar’s potential than by constructing solar farms? This is the premise of Terabase’s vision to build a terawatt-scale solar farm using robots. Matt Campbell, co-founder, and CEO of the company believes that the $44 million investment validates the company’s vision to deploy solar as quickly as possible to meet global decarbonization targets. In line with this vision, Terabase has built a digital platform to manage the entire project cycle life of utility-scale solar. The company is transforming how solar power plants are produced through a construction automation system.
Now, with the use of robotic arms in their automated, on-site factory, they can lift and attach large solar panels to sun trackers. Without extensive human labor, they can accelerate plant construction while cutting costs and ensuring a higher build quality. A robotics-assisted workflow can also enhance worker health and safety by minimizing the extensive human labor of lifting heavy panels and steel components in difficult weather conditions. Robots then simplify the installation and maintenance of solar farms. Their use can incentivize the adoption of solar technology in both small and large-scale applications.
Terabase Energy’s funder, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, was co-founded by American business magnate and philanthropist Bill Gates. With the belief that solving climate change requires unique energy solutions, he launched BEV as a fund that will invest more than $1 billion in scientific research and energy innovations. His goal is to deliver cheap and reliable clean energy to the world.
Gates, a vocal proponent of climate change mitigation and adaptation, believes the climate crisis requires both large and small-scale technologies. From home, solar panel installations to industry-sized solar farms, solar power and the increasing accessibility of robotic innovations can potentially disrupt the status quo and change how we produce energy. Decisive investments towards sustainable energy will likewise be essential to combating climate chaos, as noted by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his COP27 speech. By phasing out fossil fuels and scaling up renewables, the planet will have a better fighting chance against climate change.
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