9 Expert Tips on How To Improve Your Drone Solar Panel Inspections

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9 Expert Tips on How To Improve Your Drone Solar Panel Inspections

Inspecting solar panels manually is hard work. Just looking at the checklist a ground inspection team has to go through makes me feel tired. But why go through all that when you can have a Drone conduct the inspections for you— they are automated, safe, fast, and effective. However, before you go ahead and start flying, here are a few things we learned from our missions. We hope these will empower your solar farm's drone program to achieve excellence.

Correct Payload Gimbal Angle

When you're collecting data for an orthomosaic, your gimbal is at Nadir. If this angle is skewed, you risk losing accuracy. Similarly, during solar panel inspections, the angle of the gimbal is vital. However, the gimbal needs to be perpendicular to the tilt of the panel. When you're going to start flying, you need to check the panels' angle and ensure that the gimbal is perpendicular to that angle.

Gridding & Segmenting

Gridding and Segmenting the solar plant is your key to on-field and off-field excellence. It helps you with your mission planning, especially when you're working with multiple drones. It lets you maximize your flight coverage without overworking your drone, and a particular benefit that we enjoy is that it makes flying simultaneous flights with multiple drones significantly safer. This way, we don't run the risk of our drones flying in close proximity with each other. While one drone operates in segment A, another could safely fly in segment D and so forth. Finally, this comes in the clutch while processing. If you segment it by how the plant naturally segregates its arrays, you now have a system that translates well to the maintenance team as well and makes the reports easier to understand and faster to generate.

Verifying Data on The Field

There's nothing worse than coming back to the office only to realize that you need to refly a specific zone. Verifying the data while you're still on the field isn't a best practice exclusive to solar panel inspections, you should be doing this on any and every drone mission. It just saves you a lot of headaches down the line and ensures that your data is consistent and effective. To ensure that your drone solar panel inspection process proceeds as smoothly as possible, you'd want to inspect the gathered data while you're still on the field.

Use a Solar Irradiance Meter

Establishing the irradiance level is key. If it falls below 600 W/m2, then the data collected would be invalid. The irradiance levels changes based on current weather conditions. Typically, you want strong direct sunlight, if it's overcast, the irradiance level dips down. Cloud cover isn't really much of an issue in the UAE where you have clear skies almost throughout the year. However, for your inspection to yield actionable data, you need to ensure that the irradiance level is sufficient.

Clean Solar Panels

Dirt, grime, algae growth, and bird droppings on the module may affect performance and can negatively affect your data collection. Before you start flying, you want to make sure that the panels are cleaned before the inspection.

Use the Right Drone

There are two kinds of solar inspections, visual inspections and thermal. While the most common drone solar panel inspection is thermal, you'd have to select the suitable drone and payload combo for the job. We use DJI's M300 RTK, if you're interested to find out exactly why- watch this space. We're going to put out a video and an article on it. But the gist is, it's a great drone with the reliable H20 T Payload it lets us capture both thermal and RBG in just one flight.

Checklist, checklist, checklist

Having a checklist is an essential part of any drone inspection program. A checklist helps to ensure that nothing is missed during the inspection process. We are almost obsessed with checklists and there's no shame in that. Removing as many variables as one can before arriving on-site greatly boosts our operations and increases our success rate.

Slow Flights

This ties into why we don't use fixed-wing drones for our solar panel inspections. Wind conditions can have a major impact in solar inspections, when the drone drifts accuracy drops. Fixed-wing drones tend to drift more when compared to multirotor drones; And even when flying multirotor drones, we fly at slower speeds so that the captured data is clear and accurate.

Automate Your Data Processing

Finally, the most dreaded aspect of any solar panel inspection— manual data processing. This disdain only increases with the size of the solar plant or if the inspection is for the commissioning of the plant. Say you have about 1,000 photos per segment, it easily takes weeks to manually sift through and flag anomalies. Thankfully, with Aerodyne's VertikalitiSolar, the data processing is automated through the use of AI. Instead of taking weeks, the AI can process a batch in just two to three days. So, get yourself a robust processing solution and avoid days and weeks of painstaking work.

Using Drones on Your Solar Farms completely transforms your workflow. It makes inspections safer, faster and more cost-effective. If you're looking for inspiration on how to start your own drone program or leverage drones to your advantage, get in touch with us!


About the author

Niiveth Mani


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