The number of solar field construction projects is expected to rise dramatically as McKinsey projects United States solar capacity to explode from 73 gigawatts in 2021 to 617 gigawatts in 2032. Increasing demand, the repetitive nature of these tasks and the demands of working in the sun all make robotic equipment or automated approaches economical.
Already, practical machines are in the field that automate portions of the process, from pile driving to positioning solar panels for installation to surveying.
Trimble and Mincon Automate Pile Driving
Trimble announced today a Trimble Ready factory option for new Mincon piling and drilling attachments is now available on the market globally. Companies involved in solar construction can now opt to have Mincon Drill Mast Attachments for skid steers and excavators from the factory with appropriate plumbing and brackets to make installation of the Trimble Groundworks Machine Control System faster and more affordable.
Mincon Solar Installation Drills and Pile Drivers are designed to pre-drill through rock, install ground screws and drive piles on solar construction projects. Trimble Groundworks is a purpose-built machine control solution that enables contractors to perform drilling and piling operations quickly, safely and accurately. Equipping Mincon solar drilling solutions with Trimble Groundworks technology provides stakeless navigation, positioning accuracy and as-built data that enables solar contractors and installers to build scalable efficiency into their installation processes.
“Demand for solar is so high right now that engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) companies urgently need more installation capacity to meet the industry’s growing needs,” said Mincon Vice President of Marketing for Integrated Systems Elliott Duck said. “By equipping Mincon Drill Mast Attachments with Trimble Groundworks machine control, a machine operator can both pre-drill and install solar foundations without the need for someone on the ground checking for accuracy. This innovative workflow helps make solar installation contractors and EPCs more efficient and more scalable, reducing reliance on scarce labor resources.”
Trimble Groundworks is part of the Trimble Connected Site portfolio of solutions that provides a high-level of workflow and process integration from the design phase through to the finished project. The integration of Trimble Business Center Software design capabilities in the office and Trimble Groundworks machine control in the field can increase the efficiency and productivity of drilling and piling operations. Trimble WorksManager Software also enables the syncing of data from office to field, to reduce site visits and provide a single source of truth.
Upstarts and Incumbents
The opening salvo in the battle for solar farm construction robots came at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2023, where Built Robotics had their robotic pile driving application and Sarcos Technology and Robotics brought their Robotic Solar Module Installation Solution. The Sarcos offering is designed to eliminate difficult and awkward overhead work while acting as a force multiplier that enables more rapid execution with fewer workers.
Civ Robotics meanwhile, which received investment from Trimble Ventures in 2022, also sees solar field construction as a key market for its Robotic survey marking solution.
“We are the first all-terrain machine that does layout,” Civ Robotics Founder and CEO Tom Yeshurun said. “Our customers use us for heavy civil projects mainly, and we have a four-weel-drive system with 10-inch ground clearance and 5-inch ground clearance. It can mark coordinates anywhere from three hundredths of a foot up to two inches with our base model … Customers that use us today are large EPC (engineer, procure construct) firms and some surveying firms who have a lot of layout—thousands of points every day.”