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Terabase Uses Robots To Achieve Terawatt Scale In Solar

Terabase Energy

After SunPower Corporation closed its utility-scale solar development business in 2019 to focus on distributed generation and panel manufacturing, six former leaders of SunPower Corporation co-founded a new company to deploy solar “at the Terawatt scale.” Thus, Terabase Energy was born as a platform to manage the design, construction and operations of photovoltaic (PV) power plants. And it’s just the beginning, with a $44 million fundraise in early August set to propel the technology company forward. 

Through digitization and automation, Terabase increases the scalability and cuts the costs of large-scale solar projects. In the words of Matt Campbell, co-founder, CEO at Terabase, and former vice president of global power plants at SunPower, “these big power stations are giant, complicated exercises in managing material and managing people, and we think software can drive more efficiencies.” 

Photo Courtesy SunPower Corporation

Terabase offers a variety of software solutions spanning the entire solar development pipeline, with more than 500,000 hours of operational experience. The Development Platform houses the digitalization of pictures and notes for site assessment and assists in designing and optimizing the power plants themselves. PlantPredict is a modeling tool that churns out energy estimates for the plants, providing an additional layer of clarity. Construct is a platform to manage the inventory and building process, aggregating data from sources like construction logs and drone images. 

Terabase also provides consulting services for development, engineering and project management. Plus, power plant controls to ensure optimal performance and compliance with applicable requirements have already been installed at 80 plants, equating to more than 10 GWs of projects. 

Video Courtesy Terabase Energy 

One of the most intriguing aspects of Terrabase’s process is its new use of field-factory construction automation, saving both money and time compared to traditional building processes.

These pop-up factories are placed at each site and can work every day. Robotic arms place the 100-pound solar panels on solar trackers in 20-second intervals. The solar trackers are then transported to the solar array, which can rotate, so the panels always point at the sun. Sheldon Kimber, CEO of Terabase customer Intersect Power, explains that “our only hope to truly solve the climate crisis is to deploy clean technologies at a much larger scale to reach different areas of the economy than before. The Terabase platform is an exciting innovation to deploy more solar faster.” 

Moreover, automating the process addresses the fact that few people want to do such hefty manual labor in intense temperatures. Carmichael Roberts, co-lead of the investment committee at Breakthrough Energy Ventures, notes that “people don’t want those jobs, so we’ve got a bottleneck where it hurts our ability to deploy systems fast enough. What you need is a way of leveraging automation.” Terabase can fill that gap.

Terabase recently completed its first commercial project using the robots, it installed 10 megawatts of panels in Texas. While it marked the biggest use of robots in solar construction thus far, even more growth is on the horizon. Campbell reflected that “it’s a big stepping stone towards the future. Next year, we’re going to be scaling it to the hundreds of megawatts.”

Photo Courtesy Terabase Energy

In preparation for this expansion, Terabase raised $44 million in its Series B fundraise. It was co-led by Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Prelude Ventures, thus bringing the company’s total valuation to $52 million. Prelude Ventures is a venture capital firm that has invested in more than 60 companies in the low-carbon economy, including direct air capture company Heirloom and electric scooter rental company Lime. Meanwhile, Roberts explained the reasoning behind Breakthrough Energy Ventures’ investment in the press release: “In recent years, the solar industry has been focused on technological improvements of solar panels and other hardware components while the means and methods of engineering and construction have been largely unchanged. . . to enable the Terawatt-scale deployment of solar needed to decarbonize, we believe a breakthrough is needed to transform how PV power plants are built.”

Terabase will use the funding to fully deploy this automated solution for the mass installation of solar next year. As Campbell put it, “this investment is validation of our vision for rapidly deploying solar at the Terawatt scale. . . this round of funding will allow us to continue to expand our team and make the investments necessary to achieve our mission.” The future is bright for Terabase. 

Photo Courtesy Terabase Energy
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