Overcoming Maintenance Challenges Posed by Floating Solar Farms with Drones and Digital Twins

Overcoming Maintenance Challenges Posed by Floating Solar Farms with Drones and Digital Twins

Technology can assist in the smooth functioning of solar sites located on water

 

Floating solar farms, which are constructed on a body of water, are an innovative approach to harnessing solar power and an increasingly popular way to meet the ever-growing demand for renewable energy. However, floating solar farms come with unique challenges, as inspecting and maintaining these installations calls for specialized equipment and trained technicians. Fortunately, aerial thermography via drones, digital twin technology, and asset management software can help overcome these challenges.

The global floating solar market was valued at $2.5 billion in 2021 and by some measures is expected to surpass $10 billion by 2030. As these installations become more popular, it is necessary for asset managers to consider not just how upkeep differs from more traditional ground-mounted or rooftop systems, but also their unique safety risks. By utilizing drones for data capture–and processing the data in a geo-referenced digital twin of a site – maintenance teams can improve safety, reduce costs, and increase efficiency, making floating solar farm operations more sustainable and scalable.

 

Floating Solar Arrays: A Growing Trend in Renewable Energy

 

Floating solar arrays are a newer concept in the renewable energy industry and have gained traction worldwide in recent years. Unlike traditional solar farms, which are typically installed on the ground or on rooftops, floating solar farms are constructed on water bodies such as lakes, reservoirs, ponds, and even protected coastal areas. The technology involves the installation of photovoltaic (PV) panels on a floating platform that is anchored to the bottom of the water body.

One of the key benefits of floating solar is that it makes use of underutilized water surfaces, which are often abundant in many regions, thereby optimizing land utilization. Also, floating solar panels are more efficient than ground-mounted solar panels, as the water surface provides natural cooling, which reduces the panels’ temperature, leading to higher energy output.

As of late 2022, the total capacity of floating solar installations worldwide is estimated to be around 3.0 GW, which is a small fraction of the 700GW total solar capacity for land-based systems. However, projections suggest that this figure will rise significantly over the next few years. According to a report by the World Bank, the potential for floating solar globally is estimated to be around 400 GW, which is equivalent to the current installed capacity of solar PV worldwide.

As the demand for renewable energy continues to grow, floating solar technology is expected to become an increasingly important contributor to the global energy mix. With its numerous benefits, including efficient land use, improved panel efficiency, and potential for large-scale deployment, floating solar represents a significant opportunity for the future of renewable energy.

 

 

Addressing Safety Risks During O&M of Floating PV Systems

 

While floating solar farms are a promising technology for generating renewable energy, they also come with unique safety challenges for asset owners and their operations & maintenance (O&M) partners. Here are some of the safety risks that should be considered when working with floating PV systems:

  1. Watercraft Training/Boating Licenses: Floating solar farms require workers to operate boats to reach and maintain the equipment. It’s essential that workers are properly trained and have the necessary boating licenses to operate the watercraft safely.

     

  2. Life Vests Necessary for PPE: Personal protective equipment (PPE) should include life vests, which are essential in case of accidental falls into the water.

     

  3. Lighting Strikes: Floating solar panels are often located in open water areas, making them vulnerable to lightning strikes. To avoid electrical hazards, workers should avoid working on the panels during thunderstorms.

     

  4. Choppy Waters: Waves and choppy waters can make it challenging to move equipment around the floating solar farm. Workers should be cautious when navigating the equipment in such conditions to avoid accidents.

     

  5. High Winds: High winds can create an unstable working environment on a floating solar farm. Workers should take extra precautions when working in high-wind situations.

     

  6. Electrical Shock: The combination of water and electricity creates a significant risk of electrical shock. Workers must be aware of the electrical hazards and follow strict safety protocols to prevent accidents.

     

  7. Unstable Ground: Floating solar panels can shift or move in the water, creating unstable footing for workers. Proper safety protocols, including the use of harnesses, should be in place to prevent accidents due to unstable ground.

     

  8. Marine-Aquatic Wildlife: An additional safety risk to consider when working with floating PV systems is the potential for marine life encounters. Encounters with sharks, jellyfish, and other marine life are possible. Workers should be aware of the local wildlife and take appropriate precautions to ensure the safety of both themselves and any wildlife.

While floating solar farms present unique operational challenges, addressing such safety risks is critical to ensure the safety of workers and minimize the risk of accidents and injuries. Lack of proper safety measures can result in increased operating expenses, frequency of maintenance, and the depth of maintenance required.

 

Utilizing Aerial Thermography for Floating Solar Farms

 

Floating solar farms present unique operational challenges, and traditional methods of inspection and maintenance can be both time-consuming and costly. However, with advancements in drone technology and aerial thermography, inspections can be completed quickly and efficiently, allowing for more frequent inspections, better safety, and lower costs.

  1. Safety Increases with Drone Inspections: One of the primary benefits of using drones for maintenance inspections is increased safety. By using drones, workers are no longer required to physically enter potentially hazardous areas, reducing the risk of accidents or injuries.

     

  2. Finding Anomalies: Drones can collect the necessary data to process and analyze, which can then be geo-referenced to a digital twin letting operators know exactly where the issues are located.

     

  3. Faster Mobilization Time: Drones can be quickly deployed and pre-programmed for the necessary flight planning information. This makes them an ideal choice for inspection and maintenance of floating solar farms.

     

  4. Inspections Launched from On-Shore: Most floating solar farms are accessible by a drone from the shoreline. Shore-based inspections have no need for specialized boats or other marine equipment, further reducing costs and increasing efficiency.

     

  5. Advanced Software and Reporting: Flight software for planning all stages of the inspection, data analysis, and providing detailed deliverables is a must to complete the solar inspection process.

To further streamline the maintenance process of floating solar farms, drone service providers can be contracted to conduct inspections or in-house drone technicians can be utilized for these inspections. Once the drone flight is complete, data can be analyzed using specialized solar software that places data within a geo-referenced digital twin to identify trends and patterns that can indicate potential issues before they occur.

Drone service providers can use a company like Raptor Maps to process data and create useful reporting. Raptor Maps can classify and prioritize 100% of all anomalies on a solar site and provides the exact onsite location of each anomaly to be addressed. These results are available within a digital twin of a site for solar companies to use in optimizing and boosting plant production, ultimately increasing the rate of the return of their assets.

This proactive approach to maintenance can help reduce the risk of downtime and further increase the efficiency and effectiveness of asset management strategies. By utilizing drone technology and software solutions, floating solar farms can continue to thrive as a renewable energy source while maintaining safety and cost-effective operations.

 

About The Drone Life

The Drone Life is an industry-leading drone service provider that is dedicated to delivering outstanding drone solutions and services to clients operating in the construction, engineering, and renewable energy industries. Our area of expertise is centered on providing aerial thermography inspection services for a diverse portfolio of solar installations. With our team’s extensive expertise in utilizing drones for large-scale PV systems, we deliver precise and comprehensive data collection services. By leveraging drone-based inspections, we provide a safer, more cost-effective, and time-efficient alternative to conventional methods. For more information, schedule a consultation at thedronelifenj.com/schedule-a-consultation.

 

 

DJI and Raptor Maps Team Up to Optimize Mavic 3T Drone’s Flight Planning for Solar Use Cases

DJI and Raptor Maps Team Up to Optimize Mavic 3T Drone’s Flight Planning for Solar Use Cases

DJI’s Mavic 3T (M3T) Drone

DJI’s Mavic 3T drone.

New update enables “hands-off” solar farm inspections

Raptor Maps, a leading provider of solar software, is collaborating with DJI to provide input and testing for the latest update to DJI’s Pilot 2 flight planning software (update notes). Available for the Mavic 3T (M3T) drone, the update further improves the M3T drone’s ability to efficiently and accurately capture data for solar farm inspections, reduces user error, and ultimately allows for a “hands-off” aerial thermography inspection from start to finish that complies with Raptor Maps’ data capture standards.

Aerial thermography via drones has become the go-to inspection solution for solar inspections, providing safe, efficient, and higher-quality methods of data capture. Leveraging DJI’s Thermal SDK to ingest images from DJI’s drones, Raptor Maps then processes and analyzes these images to provide accurate and actionable insights into equipment anomalies that impact power production and drive revenue loss for asset owners, all mapped and geo-referenced to a digital twin of the solar farm.

As a leading provider of solar asset management analytics, Raptor Maps identified the opportunity for flight planning improvements with feedback directly from pilots in the field.

Drone pilot conducting solar farm inspection

With the software update, pilots can view the thermal and visual feed during flight.

Updates to Pilot 2 Software Boost M3T Drone Efficiency

With DJI Pilot 2’s updates, pilots using the M3T drone no longer need to adjust the aircraft orientation after each waypoint, removing the guesswork of whether or not the flight boundary set will be big enough to cover all of the rows of a flight boundary. Moreover, the update adds the ability to automatically adjust a flight path based on a given camera angle, reducing the guesswork involved with flying a set inspection area.

Pilots can view the thermal and visual feed during flight and monitor live temperature readings. Thermal camera values such as emissivity can also be adjusted before or during flight.

Screenshot of the Pilot 2 App

A screenshot of the Pilot 2 App.

Tests by Raptor Maps’ internal experts have shown both enhanced speed and quality of data capture, as well as a reduction in the overall pilot time investment required to accurately and safely inspect a solar farm. These improvements can be attributed to the new ease of mission planning and the M3T’s 0.7s shutter speed for capturing both visual and thermal images allowing faster flight speeds.

This flight mode planning was only previously possible with the Matrice 210 + Zenmuse XT/XT2 utilizing DJI GS Pro. When conducting data capture for a Raptor Comprehensive-level Inspection of a 10MW solar farm, you can see the time difference of 1 hours and 40 minutes below between these two systems, not to mention the additional time saved by avoiding additional battery swaps with the M3T’s 45 minutes of flight time (17 minutes more than the Matrice 210 + XT2). When taking into account battery swaps and flight time to return to home, in this example, the M3T performs the data collection about 4 times faster.

Screenshot from DJI Pilot 2 for M3T
Screenshot from DJI GSPro for M210 + XT2

Above: A screenshot from DJI Pilot 2 for M3T. Below: Screenshot from DJI GSPro for M210 + XT2. 

“We’re very excited about this new update from DJI as it will make a huge impact on making solar inspections easier for our pilots and more consistent for our processing needs,” said Chris Wilson, Raptor Maps Data Manager and one of Raptor Maps’ in-house drone experts. “This enables a ‘hands-off’ aerial thermography inspection experience for the drone pilot, adding much-needed automation and user experience improvements.”

You can enable the custom aircraft heading and gimbal pitch by going into Advanced Settings when planning a mapping mission for the M3T in the Pilot 2 application.

DJI also plans to add the ability for enabling terrain following based on a digital surface model with this flight mode in a future update. This same mission planning capability is planned for the Matrice 30 series, while the M300 series gimbal can currently be rotated for data capture needs.

If you are interested in learning more about Raptor Maps’ solutions, please contact us here.

About DJI

Since 2006, DJI has led the world with civilian drone innovations that have empowered individuals to take flight for the first time, visionaries to turn their imagination into reality, and professionals to transform their work entirely. Today, DJI serves to build a better world by continuously promoting human advancement. With a solution-oriented mindset and genuine curiosity, DJI has expanded its ambitions into areas such as agriculture, public safety, surveying and mapping, and infrastructure inspection. In every application, DJI products deliver experiences that add value to lives around the world in more profound ways than ever before.

 

Case Study: How a Director of Asset Management Uses Raptor Maps’ API to Simplify Reporting Across Hundreds of Sites

Case Study: How a Director of Asset Management Uses Raptor Maps’ API to Simplify Reporting Across Hundreds of Sites

Raptor Maps and Madison Energy Investments logos

 

Key Takeaways

  • Software-based solutions dramatically reduce the staffing needed for manual data entry for asset owners and C&I developers
  • Raptor Solar helps users streamline, standardize, and automate reporting so that it is customized for different stakeholders
  • Reliable datasets lead to insightful and cost-saving analyses for asset managers and investors

As the Director of Asset Management at leading C&I developer and owner Madison Energy Investments (MEI), Chioma Enechukwu oversees managing roughly 200 solar assets spread across the country. Enechukwu and MEI use Raptor Maps to deliver accurate and timely reporting to clients and investors, and Raptor Maps’ API is part of a software stack that greatly reduces manual labor and human error.

Enechukwu, who is originally from Liberia, has degrees in geology and engineering. She has worked in environmental remediation, oil and gas, carbon capture and now works in the solar industry.

Along the way, she taught herself how to code and use low code tools, a skill that informs her perspective on MEI’s software stack – the independent software solutions that MEI uses together for data management – and what she looks for in an API.

“With APIs I can decide what I want to see and when,” notes Enechukwu.

The asset manager is driven to find technological solutions that allow her to clearly and effectively communicate with her clients so that it is clear that MEI is providing best-in-class stewardship of their solar farms.

“We have 200-something assets, and it’s hard to keep track of all of that,” she says, detailing that prior to using Raptor Maps’ API, a team member used to manually copy data from a Raptor Maps Excel spreadsheet into another spreadsheet.

“It was just too much manual work,” she notes. “If you’re doing the work of processing the data manually, especially with smaller solar sites, the cost is very high, and we would have had to double or triple the team to keep up with it.”

“If you’re doing the work of processing the data manually, the cost is very high, and we would have had to double or triple the team to keep up with it.”

In addition to Raptor Maps, MEI’s software stack consists of products from AlsoEnergy, 3Megawatt, and others. Enechukwu integrates AlsoEnergy’s time-series data with inspection data from Raptor Maps and uses 3Megawatt for billing. In addition to using enterprise software, her team also relies on low code tools like Power Automate, Power Apps, and Power BI to create automation and web and phone applications.

Enechukwu and her team’s regular workflow involves receiving analyses from independent engineers for each solar asset that detail estimated annual production and then regularly using data from each installation to report on how the properties are measuring up to the projections. Her team’s use of low code and software solutions to digest this data is key to transforming the data into actionable insights.

Enechukwu notes that her software stack, including the Raptor Maps API, dramatically reduces manpower hours and human error because it enables her team to automate the cross-referencing of source data with solar asset health data.

“By using Raptor Maps and other tools, I know that my site is performing the best that it can,” says Enechukwu. “Raptor Maps adds an extra insight into our asset health that might not be easy to discern by just looking at production data.”

“By using Raptor Maps and other tools … I know that my site is performing the best that it can.”

She adds that she relies on Raptor Maps inspection report data—which includes information like anomaly counts by type and estimated impact on power production—to keep her informed of small details that can have a big effect on the bottom line. For example, if Raptor Maps data informs Enechukwu’s team that anomalies are causing a 1% dip in power (according to Raptor Maps’ Global Report, a 1% dip translates to an annual loss of $1070 per MW based on global averages), teams in the field can perform preventative maintenance and resolve problems before they become serious issues.

By substantially reducing manual data entry and reporting, her team can focus on creating solutions, or, as Enechukwu puts it, “these are all the things we need to think about instead of data entry.

“These are all things that we need to think about instead of data entry.”

In terms of how she would like to harness software to further improve her day-to-day work and ensure clients have an excellent experience with MEI, Enechukwu notes that she values the flexibility to present data in ways.

“Clients and investors want to see things differently, and they want to see this added thing, this extra thing,” says Enechukwu, underscoring that ease of use and flexibility in transforming data is key.

As for solar industry professionals who might want to follow in her footsteps, Enechukwu advises everyone to learn about low code. Right now, there is a proliferation of low-code tools. “We have created entire mobile apps that are used by our field techs without writing a single line of code,” she notes, adding that it is also beneficial to know the basics of coding so that you are not afraid to apply it when necessary.

“You don’t have to be a software engineer to write a simple code to make an API request,” says Enechukwu. “At Madison, we are not in the business of creating software; that’s why we rely on powerful software like Raptor Maps. However, we do add an extra level of automation to more efficiently interact and get data from software.”

To learn more about Raptor Solar, our analytics capabilities, APIs, and more, contact us here.

 

 

Raptor Maps to Provide Analytics Muscle for ACT Power Services’ Vast Portfolio

Raptor Maps to Provide Analytics Muscle for ACT Power Services’ Vast Portfolio

Partnership will empower leading O&M provider with customizable data, further enhancing customer experience

Boston, MA, February 21, 2023 — Raptor Maps, the leading provider of solar lifecycle management software, has partnered with cutting-edge O&M provider ACT Power Services to exclusively deliver solar analytics for ACT Power Services’ portfolio of over 2GW under management and 3GW under contract.

The partnership will allow ACT Power Services to leverage Raptor Maps’ platform to deliver analytics uniquely tailored to clients’ solar assets, enabling speedy identification and remediation of underperformance drivers. Additionally, ACT Power Services will be more frequently refreshing inspection analytics through Raptor Maps, allowing for reliable tracking of performance and equipment anomalies over time.

“Raptor Maps meets our mandate of leveraging state-of-the-art technology to scale our operations and ensure maximum performance for our clients,” explains Kyle Cooper, cofounder and CEO of ACT Power Services. “ACT Power Services is a world-class team with best-in-class operating practices, and we are committed to the long-term success of our partners.”

Raptor Maps centers solar analytics in a digital twin with flexible reporting options, allowing O&M providers to tailor insights to their customer’s specific needs.

“Raptor Maps has provided analytics for more than 80GW of solar assets worldwide, and we know that our insights have been instrumental in the intelligent growth of thousands of solar portfolios,” notes Raptor Maps CEO and cofounder Nikhil Vadhavkar. “It is a pleasure to partner with a forward-looking O&M provider like ACT Power Services that is using technology to propel solar asset management into the future.”

About Raptor Maps
Raptor Maps is a US-based solar software company founded by MIT engineers. Its flagship product, Raptor Solar, enables data-driven asset management and an increased rate of return across utility-scale and C&I portfolios. Raptor Maps enables its customers to scale with its industry-leading digital twin that enables high-value workflows from the fusion of equipment records, inspection analytics, in-field sensor information, and customer input. Raptor Maps has provided analytics for over 80 GW of solar PV across 48 countries. The company raised its Series B funding in 2022, led by MacKinnon Bennett & Co., Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund, Blue Bear Capital, DNV, Buoyant Ventures, Congruent Ventures, Data Point Capital and ENGIE New Ventures.

About ACT Power
ACT Power Services was created to provide high-value services for its clients. ACT Power Services believes that a new generation of O&M that leverages industry experience and state-of-the-art technology will revolutionize the way renewable energy facilities are maintained. ACT Power Services uses innovative approaches to drive down maintenance costs and maximize system availability without ever sacrificing our commitment to safety and compliance.

 

2023 Global Report Finds Dramatic and Progressive Rise in Power Loss at Solar Assets

2023 Global Report Finds Dramatic and Progressive Rise in Power Loss at Solar Assets

Trend responsible for tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue annually 

Boston, MA, February 27, 2023 — Raptor Maps, the leading provider of solar lifecycle management software, published the fifth edition of its Global Solar Report, with data that strikingly illustrates the underperformance of solar assets. The findings are of critical importance as the solar industry experiences unprecedented growth.

The report finds that the amount of power loss due to anomalies nearly doubled from 1.61% in 2019 to 3.13% in 2022. The revenue loss is estimated at roughly $82 million for the more than 24GW of solar assets analyzed by Raptor Maps in 2022.

The report can be downloaded here.

“Raptor Maps now has data on 80GW of PV systems from thousands of individual inspections in dozens of countries, and the numbers tell us that power loss from anomalies has nearly doubled in four years,” notes Eddie Obropta, CTO and co-founder of Raptor Maps. “The implications for the industry’s long-term bankability run deep at a time when legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act is supercharging growth in solar.” 

Raptor Maps’ industry-leading dataset grows every year — it increased 21% from 2021 to 2022  — offering unique insights into the health of solar assets globally and providing benchmarking data for customers of its software platform, Raptor Solar. For the first time, the 2023 edition of the Global Solar Report includes benchmarks of power loss by site size, granular module-level anomalies insights by PV cell type, and a view of the shifting module OEM landscape. 

“Raptor Maps provides customers with a digital twin that is a living record of a solar farm, monitoring power production—or power loss—as it occurs,” explains Obropta. 

The report underscores the need for asset owners and managers to monitor equipment performance over time, proactively identifying maintenance issues and warranty claim opportunities. 

“The advanced analytics in our Raptor Solar platform uses measurements like those highlighted in this report to provide a system of record that solar stakeholders can use to help installations flourish for decades,” says Raptor Maps CEO and cofounder Nikhil Vadhavkar. “Digital workflows can drive massive productivity gains by ensuring plants are operating at peak efficiency, as we have seen with our Raptor Solar Warranty Claims product, where initial data suggests a reduction in manufacturer review time by up to 90%.”