Drones reduce solar O&M costs by $1,254 per MW

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Author: Ryan Bliss
Date of Publication: April 14, 2020

Aerodyne Measure is one of the largest and most established drone service providers in the world. The company has conducted thousands of commercial operations for some of the largest energy companies in North America. Infrared Aerial is privileged to be the aerial inspection contractor for Aerodyne Measure in SC, NC and GA.

With years of experience performing aerial inspections of utility scale solar plants, Aerodyne Measure has conducted a study to determine how much faster, safer and more cost efficient it is to perform aerial inspections compared to manual inspections. In this post we will examine the results of this study.

This study involved 4 utility scale solar plants ranging in capacity from 12.5 MW to 74 MW. The purpose of the study was to report the time savings, cost savings and reduction in hazardous man hours at each site. Drone inspections were completed using aerial infrared (IR) and compared to relevant manual inspections at each site. Site 1 was compared to clamp testing with 20% IV curve tracing testing. Site 2 was compared to Voc/Isc testing at the combiner box with visual inspection. Site 3 was compared to 100% hand-held IR scanning with 15% IV curve tracing testing. Site 4 was compared to 100% IV curve tracing testing.

The results of the study (see Figure 1) demonstrate that drone inspections were 97% faster than manual inspections. Cost savings due to efficiency gains averaged $1,254 per MW (range of $1074 to $1717 per MW). From a safety perspective, each site managed to almost completely eliminate hazardous man hours by using drones.

Aerodyne Measure took this study one step further by asking global power company AES to compare the accuracy of inspection results performed by a drone to the accuracy of inspection results performed manually. The inspection data collected by drone matched the data collected manually with 99% accuracy, but the manual inspection took two days while the drone inspection only took two hours.

We are reducing high-risk activities by using new technologies to improve safety, increase efficiencies, and enhance overall company asset management,” explained Assel Ayapova, Global Drone Program Manager for AES Corporation.

Drone inspections can lower inspection costs, shorten inspection times, and improve preventative maintenance by reducing losses that accrue over time. They enable predictive maintenance to prevent problems from developing, reduce losses due to unscheduled downtime and streamline inventory management.

Stay up to date on ways to reduce solar O&M costs and improve solar performance by visiting our blog on a regular basis. Please contact Infrared Aerial at 603.521.4736 or ryan@infraredaerial.com to discuss how we can implement an aerial thermography inspection plan to meet your needs. New customers will receive a 20% discount on their first inspection.