Welcome to the Era of the RobotsBefore us is the monumental task of cleaning up our power grids, and there's no doubt that it'll be a lot easier and faster to do if we can significantly reduce the cost of generating clean energy. With solar photovoltaic (PV), the cost of the panels themselves have been falling rapidly, but those costs are only one part of a whole. If you imagine the cost of solar PV as a pie chart, you have the fraction for the panels that has been shrinking rapidly over the past few decades, but the other costs haven't been, with the biggest one being labor.
I recently wrote about how standardizing and simplifying rooftop solar installation could make it much cheaper and more affordable to the average person or corporation. Well, the same is true for large-scale solar farms. Solar panel manufacturers already use advanced machinery to help them be more productive, so why wouldn't solar installers do the same? Welcome to the era of the robots.
The videos below were produced by a German company, Gehrlicher. They've developed a mobile robot that can "automatically install ground-mounted solar panels day and night, in all sorts of weather."
According to PV Kraftwerker, another German firm doing similar things, this futuristic way of doing things is 8 times faster and requires about 1/10 the number of workers. This means that in the same amount of time as the 'traditional' method, the same number of workers can install 80x more solar panels! Now that's an impressive productivity increase! As for costs, they are about half with the robots, but a $900k robot if purchased by a solar installer could pay for itself in "less than one year of steady use".
The robots don't do everything, but over time they should do more and more and allow the same number of people to install significantly more panels. This could be a game changer because those who plot the price of solar power ahead tend to consider mostly improvements in the cost and efficiency of the panels themselves, not in the cost of labor. A bit jump in productivity there would make a big difference.