What is high-quality imagery (data) in solar construction monitoring?

What is high-quality imagery (data) in solar construction monitoring?

 

Using drones and software to monitor the progress of a solar construction project allows for exact and up-to-date measurements on its current status. However, high-quality imagery (data) is required to fully benefit from solar construction monitoring software. Without it, the information will be insufficient and the chance of incorrect reports increases. To capture high-quality imagery, two imagery (data) sets are needed: nadir images and oblique images. These monitoring missions are easy to fly and finished quickly. For example, performing set up and both missions took under 1 hour for a 10 MW site.

 

Nadir Images

 

Raptor maps Nadir Images construction solutions

 

The main point of nadir imagery is to collect high-resolution data to create an orthomosaic. These inspections are flown in a flight mapping style and provide quality data for the entire site. The progress of the construction site is clear when viewed in a map style orthomosaic. In addition, because the orthomosaic is made up of individual high-resolution images, it allows users to magnify the map and view sections in detail. The alternative would be to use a single high-fly image, which lack detail to accurately inspect construction progress. This makes it easy to compare numbers and metrics in the deliverables with those received from the field.

A nadir image is taken with the gimbal pitch pointed straight down, -90 degrees from the horizon. These images provide an extremely high-resolution view of the solar construction project. The images are taken at a lower altitude, enabling exact measurements throughout each stage of the construction project.

 

Oblique Images

 

Raptor Maps solar construction software solution

 

The second type of imagery (data) required for solar construction monitoring is obliques. With obliques, the angle is not straight down over the construction site but from afar and at an angle of -15 to -45 degrees from the horizon. These flight missions are shorter, flown circularly around the solar construction site, require less imagery to be captured, but are still very valuable. Since they’re at an angle, they can be used as a quality assurance check to both field reports and the nadir/orthomosaic data. The angle that they’re taken at allows for inspection of the solar construction site at a different angle. Since they’re flown relatively low, the resolution of the image is still high enough to magnify and inspect. For example, some beams might appear to have been installed but with the oblique images, it can easily be confirmed.

 

If you would like to learn more about construction monitoring software please contact us HERE or email us directly through info@raptormaps.com. We can also help you learn more about our software that converts your inspection imagery into final reports that are accurate and easy to use for asset management and maintenance.

 

How Solar Construction Monitoring Software Benefits Asset Owners, EPCs, Engineers, and DSPs

How Solar Construction Monitoring Software Benefits Asset Owners, EPCs, Engineers, and DSPs

Raptor maps solar construction software

 

Benefit from Optimization

Solar PV is one of the world’s fastest-growing sources of renewable energy, with 2.1 GW installed during Q2 of 2019 in the United States alone. As the amount of PV installations increase, the construction process will need to be streamlined to keep up with the growing demand. The alternatives are longer project times, increased costs, and a higher risk of future issues.

The industry has taken steps to increase solar PV construction efficiency, and a demonstrated method has been consistent progress monitoring. Using drones to capture the data (imagery) and software for analysis has proven inexpensive and reliable option for it. By creating a searchable system of reports, teams are able to easily reference site development points and make sure benchmarks are being met. With Asset Owners, EPCs, Engineers, and DSP’s all having a vested interest in the completion of the project, increasing efficiency is a growing importance.

 

Asset Owners

Asset Owners have one of the largest stakes in the completion of the solar construction project. Proper construction of the PV plant ensures that it will operate and produce the expected energy levels, thereby maximizing the return on investment. Adding construction monitoring software will facilitate the success of these goals. The reports generated from each inspection are easily downloaded in familiar formats and will integrate with the software teams are currently using. These reports, generated as frequently as needed, enable easy and remote monitoring on the progress of any construction project and build a level of assurance that benchmarks will be met on time.

 

EPCs

When an EPC is hired to construct a solar PV system, seeing that it is built to industry standards while remaining in the budget and finishing on time. Doing so will help their reputation, increase their chances of being re-hired, and qualify them further. EPCs are able to use construction monitoring to decrease the chances of incurring costs outside of what was budgeted for. Being able to monitor progress as frequently as necessary keeps everyone up to date on the state of the project, assures benchmarks will be met, and the project will be completed on time. Budgeting for construction monitoring software before the project begins adds a level of quality control throughout each stage.

 

Raptor Maps Solar Construction Solution

 

 

Independent Engineering Firms

When engineering firms are hired for a solar PV plant construction project, it’s expected that the design, clearing and earthwork, and mechanical installation are all done correctly. Adding a drone monitoring and software analysis enables this. Pre-construction land surveying and topographical reports provide a bird-eye view to the area and prevent any last-minute adverse surprises. It will confirm the land clearing is performed correctly. Teams will be able to measure and rack volumes of earthwork to verify the site development follows the timeline. The reports offer quantified data on the progress of the installation and allow comparisons between report numbers to numbers being provided from the field. Utilizing this software makes each piece of equipment trackable, allowing the evolution of installation to be followed.

 

Drone Service Providers

Drone service providers should use solar construction as another opportunity for revenue. Construction monitoring demand has increased, flights can be performed weekly, and getting started is easy with simple flight requirements. Adding a software solution to analyze your image sets allows you to start flying immediately.

Construction monitoring software is a valuable advantage to budget for. The knowledge it provides will reduce the costs and risks that can happen during a project. Easily add it to your next construction project by contacting us HERE or email us directly through info@raptormaps.com

9 Questions to Ask a Drone Service Provider Before You Hire Them

9 Questions to Ask a Drone Service Provider Before You Hire Them

9 Questions to ask a DSP before hiring them

 

Today, in the solar industry there are hundreds of drone service providers (DSP) offering aerial inspection services, ranging in quality, experience, deliverables, and price. To ensure you’re getting the most value from each inspection, you should qualify the drone service provider before hiring them. We recommend asking the following 9 questions before determining who to choose as your DSP:

1. How much experience do you have in aerial inspections of solar PV systems? 

We recommend requesting flight logs from the DSP. They should be able to provide you sample data sets and previous flight logs from other inspections. This will show you their level of experience and that they are professionals. 

2. What can I expect to receive in my deliverables? 

A DSP should be able to tell you exactly what you will be receiving in the deliverables from each inspection and that they will meet the level of detail you require. These deliverables should be available to you in the file formats your business uses. 

3. Will your deliverables integrate into my current workflow? 

The software and data outputs that they use is compatible with the systems you already have in place. The image format that is used should be the format that you or your team is used to.  

4. What equipment are you going to use?

The equipment that they use is one of the most important aspects of the DSP you hire. They should be using payloads that are high resolution, radiometric, and correct lens types. The drone being flown should be a commercial level drone, and the DSP should be using a flight operations software that enables them to capture the right data. 

5. How will you perform the solar PV inspection? 

The DSP you hire will have the ability to breakdown the process that inspecting your site will require based on the level of detail you need. They should be aware of local environmental conditions and the proper time of day to perform the inspection. 

6. How is post-processing managed? 

After they collect the imagery, the data must be processed. The software they use should be able to properly find, classify, localize, and prioritize the anomalies at whatever level of detail you require. 

7. What is your experience performing other inspections of sites and portfolios similar to mine? 

The DSP you hire should have flight logs and previously completed jobs that demonstrate they are able to properly inspect a PV system or portfolio just like yours. This will prevent the possibility of hiring a DSP that isn’t equipped or qualified to.

8. Are you licensed and insured?

The DSP you hire should have their FAA Part 107 remote pilot certificate and proof of waivers. Do not consider any drone service provider pilot without this. They should also have both general liability insurance and UAS aviation liability coverage. 

9. What is the timeline of this job? When will it be finished? 

The DSP should be able to give you a checklist of what will happen before they go to the site, while they’re on-site, when each part of the job will be completed, and the post-flight data processing and deliverable timeframe. 

Webinar Recap: Live Q&A with Raptor Maps and FLIR: Thermal Drones and Solar Inspections

Webinar Recap: Live Q&A with Raptor Maps and FLIR: Thermal Drones and Solar Inspections

Raptor Maps partnered with FLIR Systems for a live 5-part webinar series on the use of thermal drones in solar inspections. The 5th part was a live Q&A webinar, the following summary of the questions asked and our answers can be viewed below. 

The first 4 parts of the webinar series are free on-demand videos discussing the following topics:

1. The Value of Adding Thermal for Solar Inspections

2. Thermal Drone Best Practices

3. Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Service Provider

4. Limitations of Thermal Drone Inspections

Part 5: Live Q&A Webinar

 

View the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=UTRukkQf9Cw

 

Below, are some of the questions we were able to get to with a summary of our answers given. 

What are some of the general uses of this technology in the solar space? 

There are many uses for thermal drones in the solar space. To start, when a solar farm is built doing a thermal inspection of it will confirm that the site was built correctly and the components are working properly. After that, either quarterly, semi-annually, or annually are also times that the solar PV system can be inspected. Doing this regularly will help the solar PV system be as productive as possible, allow you to know if the anomalies are warranty related issues, and make sure it reaches its full potential lifetime.  

What is the demand for drone companies in the solar industry?

There is a massive demand for drone companies performing thermal inspections on solar PV systems. In the last 6 months we have seen a sharp increase in the number of drone service providers entering the solar space because solar asset owners are demanding them. As the awareness of the benefits that using thermal drones in these inspections grows, more companies will look to adopt the technology in place of other inspection methods. 

One reason for the rapid growth is because currently a lot of solar PV systems are in uncontrolled airspace, allowing for drone service providers to be able to quickly and easily perform the inspection without having to go through regulations.  

 

At what size of a Solar PV system does an aerial solar inspection become valuable?

The answer to this is also very dependent on the age of the solar farm. For instance, a smaller but older solar PV site being inspected could bring considerable value to the ones receiving the report because as the PV systems age, the likelihood of anomalies occurring increases. We have found that anything over 100 kW, or roughly half an acre, is enough of a benchmark to see valuable results. The speed and accuracy that thermal drone inspections offer generates enough ROI to be chosen as the inspection method the next time an inspection is needed. 

For reference, one megawatt is roughly 5 acres in size. 

 

How does Raptor Maps train and qualify drone pilots, and how do I start a drone pilot program? 

For clarity, Raptor Maps does not offer a drone training program. We recommend going to well received places and using our, and FLIR’s resources on drone best practices. 

To start doing solar inspections, we recommend doing hands on drone training with your specific payload. You should take an in field drone training class. This will allow you to fully utilize the features of your equipment.  

 

Are you interested in learning more about UAS, drone inspections of solar assets, and having your data converted PV analytics and system reports? If so, please contact us here and our team will be in touch.

 

About FLIR, FLIR Systems is the world’s largest commercial company specializing in the design and production of thermal imaging cameras, components and imaging sensors, widely used in solar inspections performed by thermal drones. FLIR Systems was established in 1978 to pioneer the development of high-performance, low-cost infrared (thermal) imaging systems for airborne applications. They have serviced the needs of  customers all over the world. 

How Drones can be Used to Support Solar Inspections for Warranties

How Drones can be Used to Support Solar Inspections for Warranties

Using Drones and Software to Support Warranty Inspections

Aerial PV system inspections can be used for a variety of applications and reasons. The purpose of this blog post is to discuss the benefits of using drones and Raptor Maps for the inspections of sites for warranty reasons. Regular inspections of a PV system are a common part of asset management and o&m and need to be done regularly to maintain the validity of the warranty. Regular inspections also create data sets and reference points for future inspections, helping you identify the time period in which the problem started. 

In our experience across almost 10GW of PV inspections, there are 3 common options used for PV system inspections. Option A, Human labor consisting of field walks and visually identifying warrantable issues, option B, manned aircraft (airplane) inspection of a PV system, or option C, the use of drone technology to perform the inspection. Unless your solar PV system is extremely small and can be thoroughly walked and visually checked in a couple of hours, we have found that using a drone is the most efficient, cheapest, and quickest method. The capabilities of even an entry-level industrial drone reduce the inspection process time, and the amount of time it takes until you receive your report.  

Raptor Maps and drone difference

 

Application in Warranty Inspections

For warranty inspections that require a thorough review of every module on a PV system, aerial inspections by drone are completed in a fraction of the time when compared against human labor. The inspection and, which normally takes weeks, will take a drone a day or two (for commercial-scale and utility-scale systems. Once all imagery/data of the site has been collected with the drone, the data analysis and the creation of a detailed, clear, and actionable report with Raptor Maps can be completed in days. The process to identify modules with the warrantable issue is 1000 times faster. Instead of spending valuable time and labor on the inspection to find anomalies, you can spend this time on investigating the problems in more detail and laying out your warranty claim. 

Drones have a wide capability of what can be found. They’re able to detect:

Large scale issues.

Raptor Maps Inverter Anomaly Identified on Solar PV Plant

Inverter Anomaly Identified on Solar PV Plant.

Module defects.

Raptor Maps identified diode anomaly

One of many diodes identified during a warranty inspection.

Cell level anomalies. 

Raptor Maps identifies anomalies to cell level

Cell level anomalies are easily identified with thermal cameras.

If it can be identified visually, a drone will be able to find the problem. The Raptor Maps built report, will localize, and prioritize the defect so you know the severity of issues that are affecting your solar PV site. 

Raptor Maps Report Anomaly map

Image from a Raptor Maps report showing affected modules, and their location and severity.

Drones and Software Benefits

For anomalies that require thermography and can’t be seen by the eye, drones deliver the capability to detect thermal anomalies and accurate temperature deltas of those anomalies. This information enables you to know which modules are functioning correctly, and which are not functioning correctly. The data collected with a thermal drone also enables you to identify where the anomaly is located in the PV system down to the module level. When following the IEC standards for aerial thermography of a PV system, capturing the data at 3cm/px enables very specific detail to be reported on, and gives the warranty claims a stronger foundation as well. The thermal image resolution is critical for the accuracy of the findings. Using a manned aircraft/plane cannot deliver this high-level resolution and detail in thermal image resolution.

Raptor Maps imagery at 3cm/px

High-resolution image of a solar PV system flown at 1cm/px GSD showing module cracking.

Standardization

Inspections are also standardized when using a drone and data analysis software like Raptor Maps for your warranty inspections. We have strict data requirements for acceptable imagery. You’ll receive the same level of quality in each inspection analyzed through this process. Standardizing the inspection will allow you to build a database of more in-depth reference points, and create a higher level of certainty of correct anomalies because all inspections were performed and analyzed the same way, each time. 

When every aerial inspection of a PV system is performed the same standardized way and all data is reviewed by the same tool such as Raptor Maps, you are able to find recurring issues. This also enables you to take note of anomaly trends and further diagnose root causes including issues that could be due to a manufacturer defect or installation error.  Properly identifying the root cause with standardized data and reports enables you to file a warranty claim and replace the component instead of constantly addressing the same problems and increasing labor onsite. 

We have heard from several companies that own, manage, and maintain solar assets that the need for regular inspections up O&M costs. PV systems built with components that have known issues and require these regular inspections to catch new warrantable issues consumes significant time and labor bandwidth. Though the costs can be calculated and possibly budgeted for, using drones for these ongoing inspections and a credible software solution will reduce the amount of labor required. However, drones combat this and allow for time to be spent on other matters, and/or further investigating or field addressing the anomalies. 

Conclusion

In close, applying drones and software technology is an easier, less expensive, and more efficient way to inspect your solar PV system for warranties. The accuracy of the thermal cameras allows you to identify anomalies and track trends to build a robust case for the warranty claims. 

If you want a more in-depth breakdown of thermal drones application in solar inspections, check out our free 5-part webinar series created with FLIR!

If you would like to learn more about how using drones and software can support solar inspections for warranties please contact us HERE or email us directly through info@raptormaps.com. We can also help you learn more about our software that converts your inspection imagery into final reports that are accurate and easy to use for asset management and maintenance.

Raptor Maps and FLIR: Limitations of Thermal Drone Inspections

Raptor Maps and FLIR: Limitations of Thermal Drone Inspections

Raptor Maps partnered with FLIR for a five-part series with four videos and a live Q&A webinar on the use of thermal drones for solar inspection. The 4 part video series covers a variety of topics, such as the benefits of thermal cameras in solar inspections, best practices for inspections, questions to ask before hiring a service provider, and the limitations of thermal drones in solar inspections.

 

Video 4: Planning For a Successful Thermal Inspection

This video covers:

  • Camera and Environmental Limitations
  • Irradiance & Operating Status
  • Coverage & Flight Times

In the last part of the video series before the live webinar, the current limitations of the hardware are discussed. You will learn about the limitations of the actual hardware, like the camera’s themselves. You will also learn about outside factors that can be limiting, like environmental limitations, and irradiance and operating issues. Lastly, the video will discuss limitations within coverage and flight times. 

Check out the other videos in the series!

1                2               3               4

Are you interested in learning more about thermal drone inspections of solar assets, and having your data converted PV analytics and system reports? If so, please contact us here and our team will be in touch.