Drones increase solar plant performance, guaranteed

Link to original story
Author: Ryan Bliss
Date of Publication: April 14, 2020

The utility scale solar market continues to grow at a record pace in the United States, with 1,410 MWdc installed in 3rd Quarter of 2019 and a utility PV pipeline of 45.5 MWdc. As competition in the power market increases and the price of solar continues to fall, solar Operations & Maintenance (O&M) professionals are under increasing pressure to improve efficiencies and guarantee performance. In this post we present data from a study that was published in the International Journal of Energy and Environmental Engineering that will increase photovoltaic (PV) plant performance, guaranteed.

O&M is the most effective method for improving solar plant efficiency, safety, reliability and cost effectiveness. Aerial inspections of solar plants with drones have become an established part of a predictive maintenance schedule to recognize degradations and defects. The “purpose of this study was to investigate UAS (unmanned aerial systems) applications in energy management with particular attention to solar energy in order to propose a low cost, rapid and reliable method to inspect energy plants and to achieve and maintain high performance during operations.” The aerial inspection was conducted using a drone equipped with thermal and visual imaging cameras, it targeted 1 MW of capacity and took only a few minutes to complete.

This study concluded that “light UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) have many advantages in monitoring operations such as cost effectiveness, safety, fast detection, light weight, and the fact that a large amount of data can be collected by various sensors and cameras at the same time.” The authors state that “UAV application in PV plants can guarantee to increase overall system performance.

Since the publication of this study in 2015 numerous large-scale power companies in the U.S., such as Southern Power, Duke Energy, Invenergy and Enel Green Power have replaced manual inspections with aerial thermography inspections as part of their predictive maintenance plan to increase solar plant performance, reduce O&M costs, save time, improve safety and maximize return on investment.

As soon as you put an infrared camera on a drone, what used to take three days takes two hours instead,” according to Jason Handley, Director of Smart Grid Emerging Tech and Operations for Duke Energy.

When you take a drone and you attach a thermal camera to it, you can actually collect very interesting thermal imagery of our photovoltaic plants and show exactly where faults and anomalies might be. It saves us money and an enormous amount of time,” said Sander Cohan, Director of Innovation for Enel Green Power in North America.

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.

1.  F. Grimaccia et al. Planning for PV plant performance monitoring by means of unmanned aerial systems (UAS).  Int J Energy Environ Eng (2015) 6:47–54.