How are Drones making a difference in the Solar Energy Sector?

We are in 2022, and as per the Solar Energy Market Outlook report, the global solar energy market is expected to reach $223.3 billion by 2026, expanding at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 20.5% from 2019 to 2026! Solar Power is one of the most important sources of renewable energy and, of course, there is also a business angle to it. Hence, the ‘Return On Investment’ in the Solar Energy Sector becomes even more crucial both financially and environmentally.

We can’t afford to neglect the fact that solar panels can develop defects over time! However, these defects can also be corrected easily, if, and only if, they are identified at an early stage. Maximizing the efficiency of the solar panels is our goal, and it can only be achieved by periodic inspections followed by proper maintenance of the panels.

Now that we think of inspections, ‘traditional manned inspection’ shouldn’t be our choice at all, as it is time-consuming, expensive, hazardous, inefficient, and what not? Why should we compromise our Time, Money, and Energy, on less accurate and inefficient data when there are drones that do the job way better?

Drone-based Solar Panel Inspection

Aerial inspections in the Energy Sector make operations Safer, Efficient, Accurate, Faster, and way more Cost-effective, as contrasted with the traditional practice of manned inspections. When it comes to solar energy, drones bring value to solar power plants across the entire life-cycle. Let’s dive deep into more practical applications of drones in the solar energy sector:

  • Pre-installation & Construction Surveys
  • Commissioning Inspection
  • Video and Thermal Inspection

Pre-installation and Construction Survey

Well begun is half done – how accurate for Solar Panels! A pre-installation survey analyses various factors like topographic modeling, site shading assessment, water source and generator proximity, and the soil type to figure out how optimal a site is for power generation. Drones support the engineers to examine the entire field by helping them place the solar panels at optimum levels on any piece of land more quickly and efficiently than the traditional methods.

Coupled with artificial intelligence, drones can also help in improving the layout of solar fields – objects like transmission lines, shadows from nearby vegetation, the slope of the landscape, and so on can be analysed and taken care of while finalising the layout.

A drone flyover during construction can deliver insights into the progress of the sites and validate each milestone of the project. Likewise, quality control and logistics planning are also guaranteed outputs of drone flight.

Commissioning Inspection

The commissioning inspection is indeed one of the most important inspections of a solar power plant. In a perfect world, the commissioning inspection wouldn’t or shouldn’t return any anomalies; however, this is not the case. A commissioning inspection makes sure that the solar plant meets the standards for production set by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). It also makes sure that all of the structures and parts are in working order before the plant is officially up and running.

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 you with 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.

During a regular inspection, we may also assess further site conditions like Vegetation, Tracker Misalignment, Fencing, Erosion, and so on.

Visual and Thermal Inspection

Regular Inspection is an indispensable part when it comes to solar panels. Drones can comprehend the quality and functional fitness of solar farms. They can spot any anomalies, check conditions caused by natural disasters and provide stakeholders with all the possible information related to their solar farms, opening avenues for predictive maintenance rather than reactive maintenance strategy.

Rather than sending inspectors to the solar plant to inspect individual panels on foot, a simple drone flight can record 4K resolution videos and pictures of the entire plant! Likewise, drones can also be utilised to inspect the electric substations, lines, and poles at utility-scale solar plants. Automated Drone flights coupled with High-resolution cameras and Thermal sensors enable the detection of the majority of the faults or anomalies in the solar panel, hence preventing assets from being impaired. Any issue with a cell, panel, or entire string will appear as hotspots to the thermal sensor.

Apart from inspections, drones are also the best option when it comes to mapping, location and tracking, as drones can cover more areas more quickly by air than a person on the ground.

Inspecting Your Solar Panels

Drones provide an apparent benefit to solar power plants. Their speed and precision provides a safer and more effective inspection solution which can even be automated. But perhaps the most significant benefit is the ease of integration of drone data with digital transformation or data solution platforms. When drones are combined with a powerful data solution you have an ecosystem that empowers each other and ultimately improves the productivity and reliability of your Solar Power Plants.

You are most likely to wonder “How much does it cost to conduct a drone solar inspection?” We’d be happy to provide you with a cost-free consultation; get in touch with us to find out more.

About the author

Maria Thomas

Maria Thomas