Drone Solutions – Paving the Way to a Solar-Powered Future
Mar 17, 2022
In the face of climate change, countries all over the world are attempting to boost their investments in renewable energy in an effort to drive a more sustainable, carbon-free future. Among the most utilized forms of clean energy - and the most readily abundant - is solar energy.
According to reports, the total value of solar investments in 2018 was 272.9 billion US dollars, about three times the total value of investments in fossil fuels in the same year. And while solar energy has undeniable benefits, the sector has always had one major drawback: cost.
Though the cost of solar energy projects has declined somewhat in recent years as global demand and accessibility of materials have increased, maintenance costs and efficiency issues still play a major factor in the high expenditure of the industry.
But today, there is a new technology that’s tackling some of the solar industry’s toughest challenges, making solar farms around the world more efficient, more productive, and more profitable.
How Drones Are Helping in Reducing the Cost of Solar PV Plants
Drones are one of the fastest-growing industries in the world – and for good reason. These compact flying aircraft are transforming inspection and monitoring processes across hundreds of industrial sectors, but perhaps none more so than the solar industry.
Take a look at some of the most important ways drones are cutting costs and transforming the way solar farms are run, monitored, and maintained…
A View From The Top
One of the biggest challenges of solar farms stems from a fundamental concept of the industry. To harness this renewable resource, solar panels are installed across large areas of land on the principle that the more area you cover, the more energy you can produce.
With some solar farms reaching thousands of acres in size and comprising hundreds of thousands of solar panels, manual inspections can take weeks or even months to complete.
But today remote-piloted drones are being used to conduct aerial surveillance including comprehensive visual and thermal inspections of photovoltaic modules for utility-scale projects in a matter of hours.
Conducting a full-scale inspection of a solar farm can run tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in man-hours, which is why many plant operators opt to check only a small sample size of the site – but this method comes with its own set of problems. Checking a select sample of modules throughout the farm runs the risk of overlooking faulty panels, or potential debris that can severely impact the operational capacity of the whole site.
Not only can drones minimize the amount of labor required for a variety of jobs, including conducting station inspections, surveying, and other duties – the thermal and infrared imaging enables operators to monitor panel function from the inside out.
Along with reduced hours, drones inspections ensure that engineers and inspectors can get data and insights across the plant, quickly, easily, and most importantly – safely.
Techs must open the combiners and inverters in solar farms to assure they're operating efficiently, but having direct contact with these extremely charged components is very dangerous. Instead, drone inspection can pinpoint faults remotely, limiting exposure and shock risk and keeping techs safe and secure.
Drones can spot issues from the sky in minutes, in fact, inspectors who use drones can survey a site an average of 10x faster than they could manually, which means teams are able to pinpoint problems and fast-track repairs.
But perhaps more impressive than the speed is the accuracy of data that drones capture. Drones generate thermal maps in real-time which allow inspectors to detect broken photocells, and other anomalies, in addition to giving to-the-minute reports on operational output and efficiency.
The efficiency of a solar power installation is greatly impacted by the placement of the solar panels, which is why it’s important to conduct geographic surveillance and mapping prior to building a solar plant.
Drones give a birds-eye view of the site prior to construction, which avoids any unanticipated issues that might result in higher expenses. For example, drones allow for quick and comprehensive land surveillance, including sunlight simulations through the seasons and identifying potential dead zones. This ensures that solar panels will be installed in the best, and most productive position for maximum efficiency and minimal risk.
Hope on the Horizon
As one of the twenty-first century's fastest-growing technologies, drones have proven to be invaluable assets across a range of industries, particularly solar energy.
The use of drone solutions in solar panel construction and inspections is paving the way for a faster, safer, cost-effective, and efficient future for this renewable energy sector. And as drone use continues to increase in the solar industry — for surveying, design, inspection, and more — so too does the potential that solar energy will become a primary source of all electricity across the world.