Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or their commercial name, drones, have had a massive adoption since their military counter-part was commercialised due. The vehicles originally served militaries in areas that were difficult to navigate or declared un-safe for soldiers. With price reductions, the vehicles have now been adopted globally by populations for filmography, deliveries, agriculture and even racing.
Drones inspections is probably the largest utility for drones in solar, from residential to utility scale, long manual man-hour heavy tasks for O&M have been significantly reduced through the use of drones. Current manual practises to-date involve traversing acres of land and manually inspecting each individual panel, or identifying sample plots and hoping the result scales the total plant capacity. In the case, of rooftop installations, the added danger of work-from height is present which can often present huge liabilities to asset owners.
Drones improve safety but also provide improvements in quality and reduction in operating costs.
Research conducted by drone company, Measure, found an increase in their inspection efficiency by 97% on 137.5MW across 4 sites. The result provided a net saving of 130,500USD across the sites. Drones on average, produce a cost savings of $1254/MW. A manual inspection that took conducted at the same time but took 2 days longer, found the drones performed at 99% accuracy when compared.
On larger utility-scale sites, often only a20% sample is taken due to the time and tedium of manual inspecting the whole plant. Due to the high efficiency of drone inspections, developers and asset owners can benefit of more frequency inspection allowing for more preventive maintenance that can lead to less down-time and therefore higher revenues.
Aside from inspections, drones have massive utility across the solar development cycle.
Site Development and Planning
Drones can be used to pre-qualify project sites, thoroughly timely evaluating a project site for site shading assessments, plot boundaries and distance from interconnection lines, and with the use a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) identify soil type and quality that will dictate your civil and ground study costs.