Drones and AI for Solar Plant Commissioning Inspection

With the assistance of drone-powered solutions, Solar Panel commissioning inspection is now simpler and more efficient. And what if the data analysis is automated with AI? The efficiency of drone-powered solutions escalates even further – That’s exactly the FEDS’ way of doing things!

Recently, TerraStruc Energy Services contracted team FEDS for the commissioning inspection of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park. TerraStruc is a reputed firm that incorporates advanced technology while working on their projects – installation and maintenance of solar energy systems. That’s how our drone-powered solutions become an integral part of their success story lately.

We used Drone-powered solutions for quick, safe and efficient data collection and automated the data analysis with Aerodyne’s vertikalitiSOLAR AI solutions. As a result, our clients could precisely locate anomalies and rectify them immediately before the Solar Panels were fully operational.

In this case study, we will examine how drones were used in the commissioning inspection of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the benefits derived from drone integration, and how it translated to practical solutions. 

Solar Panel Commissioning Inspection


Solar Commissioning Inspection

From planning to implementation and maintenance, the applications of drones in the Solar Sector are tremendous. The Commissioning Inspection is one of the most crucial applications of drones, among many others. A Solar Commissioning Inspection is a standard inspection soon after a PV plant is installed. It verifies that the installation is complete, safe, and up to the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) standards. In a perfect world, the commissioning inspection wouldn’t or shouldn’t return any anomalies; however, this is never the case.

Using Aerial Drone Data, you can verify if the solar panels are operating as intended; if they aren’t, you can easily claim the warranty. The consistent and spatially specific nature of drone data provides a historical view of your panels, allowing you to identify patterns and narrow down whether a fault is limited to a few cells or if the entire string is in danger of failing. The larger the PV system, the more important it is to perform a thorough commissioning inspection before it begins operating. Otherwise, you may end up accepting installation mistakes and equipment defects.

Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park

FEDS was commissioned to conduct an aerial commissioning inspection of phase 5 of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park spread across 3.5 sq.km of area, generating 900MW of power. The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park is the largest single-site solar park in the world which is estimated to grow into a production capacity of 5,000 MW by 2030. The solar park is reported to save over 6.5 million tons of carbon emissions annually. Simply put, this Solar Park is capable enough to cut down the harmful carbon emitted by around 1.4 million cars per year.

Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park
Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park (Photo taken from their official website)

The Take Off

For the efficiency of the workflow, we segmented the solar farm again into zones, rows and renamed the panels. This segregation also enhanced pilot safety and coordination, and ensured that the drones were well-protected and utilised to the best of their capability without being overworked or damaged.

“To speed up the efficiency of this time-sensitive project without losing the accuracy, we decided to deploy multiple drones and payloads from our fleet,” says Nikin Mohan James, Operations Manager, FEDS. As a result, our team used 3 sets of DJI M300 RTK paired with the DJI Zenmuse H20T payload to collect around 16,000 images of the panels. The only thing that troubled our team was the scorching heat of the day, as the mission happened at the day’s hottest hours. The mission was designed as a three-team endeavour, where each team tackled the allotted block of panels in each zone. The FEDS Team set a target to cover the entire area in 5 days; flying at an altitude of 40 m. But guess what? The team could cover the entire 3.5 sqkm area in just four days!

DJI Zenmuse H20T
DJI M300 RTK paired with Zenmuse H20T

AI-assisted Data Analysis

Manually combing through the data would have taken us days or even months. We aimed to match the data processing speed with the data capturing speed. The massive nature of the project demanded more innovative approach to the Data Analysis. After testing the best available solutions, we finally decided to go with the Aerodyne’s vertikalitiSOLAR for AI-enabled data processing. One major challenge we faced during the data processing was the presence of uncleaned solar panels – the majority of the captured images contained a lot of sand grit on top of the panels, which confused the AI system into reading them as possible thermal hotspots.

 Aerodyne's vertikalitiSOLAR
 vertikalitiSOLAR UI

However, the veteran thermographers of Aerodyne provided us with a highly comprehensive mission report in less than a week. The mission report comprised a complete list of anomalies along with their severity-levels and location coordinates. Finally, the aim is to be able to identify, educate, and address these issues as soon as possible using maintenance drives.

NB: The figures on the screengrabs have been altered to protect the anonymity of the data.

Wrapping Up!

Did you know that Renewable Energy makes up 29% of the world’s energy generation; Solar energy alone produces roughly 20% and is forecasted to grow. Solar Power is one of the most important renewable energy sources, making its ‘Return On Investment’ more financially and environmentally crucial – and that’s exactly why we have been vouching for drone-powered solutions for your Solar Plant initiatives.

Gone are the days of inspecting massive solar farms on foot and manually combing through the collected data. If you are a professional in the Solar sector and wish to stay ahead of the curve – let’s join hands! Drone-powered solutions are Safer, Faster, more cost-effective and more efficient. Moreover, when the data analysis is automated with AI, it further escalates the advantages of drone-powered solutions. Are you interested in making your solar farm more competitive? Get in touch with us today.

About the author

Maria Thomas

Maria Thomas