Drones are revolutionizing how solar farms are inspected, operated, and maintained. They’re making solar site inspections faster, safer, and delivering more accurate reports on the overall DC health of a site. In this post, we will break down the 5 main ways drones deliver value when used for performing PV system inspections. Whether you’re an asset owner, performance manager, field technician, or a service provider, drones provide unmatched value when it comes to inspecting PV systems from the air.
1. Comprehensive Coverage
Applying drone technology to PV system inspections has allowed for more accuracy than previously possible with manual field tests, ie. I-V curve tracing. Performing manual inspections of solar farms is extremely timely, labor-intensive, and leaves room for error. The amount of time it takes to perform these tests can also lead to variation in the test results. By taking aerial footage of an entire solar asset in a short period of time (a couple hours), you eliminate inconsistencies and avoidable errors in your inspection data. O&M teams that have implemented drones in their workforce have reported reducing time on site by 90%.
2. Enhanced Visibility
During manual inspections, every individual module cannot be analyzed, therefore anomalies are frequently overlooked. Use of drones to perform aerial thermography inspects all issues within a solar site down to the cell level. By capturing detailed imagery/data of the entire PV system, teams are able to identify, classify, and localize each anomaly and understand the performance impact. Technicians are then able to quickly prioritize anomalies by the level of severity, visit each anomaly, and make appropriate repairs.
3. Site Safety
In order to manually check that a solar farm is operating at maximum capacity, technicians must periodically open combiners and inverters. Direct interaction with open circuitry is extremely dangerous and puts technicians at risk. Drones drastically reduce this safety risk by localizing defects and pinpointing faults. This eliminates technicians’ unnecessary exposure to electric shock and having to perform inspections from unsafe locations, ie. rooftops.
4. Scalability Across Solar Sites
The ability for a drone to access any site location has made it the go-to inspection service for commercial and industrial (C&I) projects. Since C&I sites are typically located in highly populated regions, drone technicians are widely available for hire. Drones allow small teams to also inspect large Utility-scale solar sites in a single day. Instead of sending a team of technicians to find a needle in a haystack, one technician can show up to a site and perform an IR and high-resolution imaging inspection within a few hours. Drones are enabling asset managers to increase the number of sites their teams can manage without adding more skilled technicians.
5. Improved Operational Excellence
Drone technology maximizes productivity for solar professionals by conducting inspections 10x faster than manually possible. With PV systems encompassing hundreds of thousands of panels, performing aerial thermal and high-resolution inspections has become the most efficient way to detect anomalies (hot spots, soiling, shading, string failures). O&M and asset management in the solar industry are rapidly adopting drone technology in order to optimize their workflow, increase productivity, reduce labor costs, and improve safety.
In conclusion, as drone and camera technology continues to develop and local and federal regulations for drones evolve the sky’s the limit for drones in the solar industry.
Looking to incorporate drones into your PV system inspections? Reach out to us here. Want to learn about Raptor Solar? Read more about how our software turns your solar drone inspection data into comprehensive system analytics and actionable reports here.