Robotics in Renewable Energy



The field of renewable energy has skyrocketed in recent years. The reason behind the new advancements that we see every day is robotics. With the field of robotics in the drivers’ seat, renewable energy is finding new applications in niches that were previously unexplored.


What is Renewable Energy?


Renewable Energy refers to the energy that is produced through sustainable means. In other words, it is the energy that is produced by using resources that naturally refill in real-time and never run out. In recent years, the rise of the robotics industry has brought many advancements in renewable energy which were previously impossible.


Currently, the main sources of energy are fossil fuels. The discovery of fossil fuels is what drove the industrial revolution, however, they are a major cause for concern today. Fossil fuels are naturally obtained from the earth and include crude oil, coal, and natural gas. Excessive use of fossil fuels over the years has led the natural reserves to deplete to alarmingly low levels. Moreover, energy is produced by burning fossil fuels which release harmful gases into the atmosphere as a byproduct. These gasses are the cause of all the pollution and climate change we face today.


It is only by developing stable and eco-friendly sources of energy that humans can possibly survive as a species. So far, scientists have identified many sources of energy that are sustainable in the long run, including solar, geothermal, wind, and biomass energy.


Solar Power


Out of all of the renewable sources of energy, solar power is perhaps most compatible with the field of robotics. Solar power refers to the process of converting solar energy to electricity through a phenomenon known as the photovoltaic effect.


Traditionally, operating and maintaining a solar farm has been tedious and prone to accidents. However, since solar technology is quite robotic in itself, robots have been designed specifically for the purpose of maintaining a solar farm.


A splendid example is SMP Robotics’ S4 robot. Along with the regular surveillance equipment (such as cameras, infrared sensors, etc.), the S4 also includes a thermographic sensor. These sensors allow the robot to inspect the large electronic components of the farm on a regular basis and prevent future accidents.


Integrating solar energy cells into everyday electronics is also a tedious task and the reason why we don’t see them a lot in consumer electronics. On the other hand, integrating solar cells in robotic systems is relatively easy. Therefore, it is predicted that as the field of robotics takes over the consumer market, solar energy will also become a mainstream source of energy.

Geothermal Energy


Just as fossil fuels are found deep within the Earth, so is heat. Geothermal Energy refers to the heat within the sub-surface of the Earth which is harnessed and used to turn the turbines that produce electricity. Unlike fossil fuels, however, the heat under the Earth’s crust is constantly replenished from the hot iron core of our planet. Therefore, it can never run out.


Harnessing geothermal energy, as easy as it sounds in theory, is quite difficult to do in practice. This is where robotics steps in to help. The problems with geothermal power plants are much the same as those of underground oil rigs. The main one being maintenance. In order to solve this problem, Spain’s largest electric utility company, Endesa, has created a tiny underwater robot that can help with the maintenance of its thermal plants.


The effort was in fact carried out by the Spanish start-up company NIDO robotics that created the robot specifically for Endesa’s needs. This little robot is just the start of a line of mini robotics which will help harness the energy from the earth.


Biomass Energy


As living beings, we produce a tremendous amount of energy every day. The energy produced by living things is called biomass energy. Converting biomass energy into electricity is an intricate process, however, it is one that can be mechanised.


While there is not much in development for mechanising the biomass energy production process, there are robots that can run entirely on biomass fuels. The 2009 project by Robotic Technology Inc. and Cyclone Power Technologies, called EATR, was a robot that had the ability to ingest grains and veggies which were heavy in biomass and turn them into electricity. Although the project was later shut down due to concerns about the robot being able to ingest human remains, the EATR robot is a terrific proof of concept for further projects to be built on.


Wind Power


The basic element in any electric power plant is the turbine. We use renewable fuels in order to turn the turbine and generate electricity. In the case of wind power, it is wind that turns the turbine and that energy is converted to electricity.


Wind farms, however, can be extremely expensive to run and not nearly as profitable. This is why, despite being extremely accessible, wind power is often not harnessed. Much of the reason for this is that fixing the broken blades of wind turbines is extremely expensive. Robotics is tackling this problem from both sides.


The production of wind blades is often manual, which makes it expensive. Through the use of robotics, many wind turbine manufacturers are automating the process of production. This will bring the cost of production significantly lower and make it easier for wind farms to replace the blades. On the other hand, Sandia National Laboratories has made a vacuum-legged robot that can crawl on the blades of a wind turbine and inspect it for damage. If the damage is detected early enough, most blades can be saved and would never need replacing.


The future of renewable energy


Advancements in robotic technology have brought about some major changes on the renewable energy forefront. With solar and wind energy farms growing by the day and geothermal and biomass energy becoming easier to produce, we can safely say that the era of renewable energy is right around the corner.


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