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.



First-Ever DJI Dock (“Drone-in-a-Box”) Solar Farm Inspection Conducted in North America

First-Ever DJI Dock (“Drone-in-a-Box”) Solar Farm Inspection Conducted in North America

DJI Dock drone in a box raptor maps

Image provided by DJI

Interested in learning more about how Raptor Maps can enable this technology for you?

Enel, DJI, Raptor Maps, and Unmanned Vehicle Technologies (UVT) collaborate to achieve technological breakthrough for the solar industry


May 3, 2023 – Dallas, TX – Enel Green Power, a multinational provider of electricity and gas, has collaborated with DJI, Raptor Maps, and UVT to conduct the first-ever utility-scale solar farm inspection in North America with the DJI Dock (also known as “drone-in-a-box” technology). The achievement marks a major milestone for both the solar and UAS industries, enabling the solar industry to take advantage of this game-changing new technology.

Enel conducted the landmark inspection at a 181 MWdc solar site in Texas, demonstrating the Dock’s ability to facilitate inspections on a utility-scale site.

DJI Dock drone in a box raptor maps

Image provided by DJI

DJI, a leader in enterprise drone solutions, developed the DJI Dock and Matrice 30T (M30T) Dock Version drone, while UVT, one of the largest North American drone & robotics end-to-end solutions providers, provided both the Dock and the deployment services for Enel’s testing. Raptor Maps, a leading provider of solar asset management software solutions, built the necessary mission planning software to direct the M30T drone to conduct the inspection.

“We’re proud to have conducted the DJI Dock’s first-ever North American solar farm inspection at an Enel site,” said William Badnaruk, the Head of Industrial Risk and Cross Technology Improvement at Enel North America. “We believe this technology is the future of solar site inspections because it enables us to discover issues and inefficiencies more quickly, which will ultimately reduce our operating expenses and improve production at a faster rate.”

DJI Dock drone in a box raptor maps

Image Credit: DJI. DJI Dock control interface through FlightHub 2

Drone-based aerial thermography has become the go-to method for inspecting utility-scale solar quickly, efficiently, and safely, but until now it has still required human intervention. Drone-in-a-box (DIAB) is ushering in a new era of automated and easily repeatable inspections, made possible by recent advancements in hardware, software, and operational planning.

“One of the exciting things about the solar industry is that we get to drive new technology forward, and building the software for this drone-in-a-box inspection marks a significant innovation that will help the industry scale,” said Raptor Maps Cofounder and CTO Eddie Obropta.

DIAB inspections allow for quicker identification and remediation of equipment-driven underperformance, which was found to have cost the solar industry $2.5B in lost revenue in 2022. Expediting inspections and repairs reduces safety hazards and fire risks, lowers costs for utilities and asset owners, and boosts revenue.

DJI Dock drone in a box raptor maps

Image Credit: DJI. DJI Dock and the M30T ready to deploy from the rooftop

“There are a lot of operational considerations, such as pilot access to the site, data offload, and on-site flight planning, that are simplified with the DJI Dock,” said Grant Hosticka, DJI’s Head of Enterprise Solutions Engineering, North America. “The Dock automates operations and allows for repeatable methods of data collection, which we believe will change the face of solar inspections.”

Moreover, with automated, AI-directed drone flights, DIAB technology ensures power production is attained to its full potential – eliminating waste in the energy value chain, ensuring a more reliable flow of clean renewable energy, and ultimately furthering American energy security.

“This is truly a groundbreaking use of drone technology for the solar industry, and UVT is excited to have provided the crucial operational support and personnel for the deployment of the DJI dock on site,” noted Chris Fink, Founder & CEO at UVT.

Interested in learning more about how Raptor Maps can enable this technology for you?

About Enel Green Power
Enel Green Power, within the Enel Group, develops and operates renewable energy plants worldwide and is present in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania. A world leader in clean energy, with a total capacity of more than 59 GW and a generation mix that includes wind, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric power, as well as energy storage facilities, Enel Green Power is at the forefront of integrating innovative technologies into renewable energy plants.

About Raptor Maps
Raptor Maps is building solar’s integrated operating system, enabling the industry to scale and meet global climate goals. With intelligence for the entire solar industry, our solar lifecycle management platform (Raptor Solar) provides the tools and the system of record that asset owners, managers, O&M, developers, and EPCs need to build, maintain, and expand their solar plants. At the core of the platform are continuously evolving, geo-referenced digital twins of your solar assets, which integrate with the data sources you need to derive actionable insights. Raptor Solar bridges the gap between insight and action, improves asset health and power production, reduces risk, and ultimately increases the rate of return of solar assets. To learn more about Raptor Maps or to schedule a demo, contact us at raptormaps.com/contact.

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.

About UVT
UVT equips organizations nationwide with the latest in drone and robotics technology, training, and support. We partner with you to provide end-to-end turnkey solutions custom-tailored to your mission. Our comprehensive services include a diverse catalog of vetted enterprise hardware and software solutions, consultation, site surveys, installation, and education for seamless deployments. All of this backed by a suite of technical and operational fleet support services to help your organization maximize the benefits of our technology. To learn more, visit our website at www.uvt.us.


Recapping Raptor Report, a New Resource for the Solar Industry

Recapping Raptor Report, a New Resource for the Solar Industry

Raptor Maps’ in-house podcast profiles leaders in the solar industry


This January, Raptor Maps launched Raptor Report, a podcast covering the latest developments in the solar industry, featuring industry insiders ranging from engineers to executives. The podcast, which is released every second Monday, is hosted by Raptor Maps Data Manager Stephen Glaus and Head of Knowledge Don Nista.

In the six episodes that have so far been released, the podcast has highlighted a wide range of perspectives in the industry, including interviews with an environmental services consulting pro, an energy entrepreneur, and a commercial solar installer. The podcast is rapidly becoming a must-listen for the solar industry.

Check out highlights from the first six episodes below.


Episode 1, “No Planet B,” Featuring Raptor Maps Cofounders Nikhil Vadhavkar and Eddie Obropta

Solar PV Podcast for News, Insights, and Information

On the first episode of Raptor Report, Stephen and Don chatted with Raptor Maps cofounders Nikhil Vadhavkar and Eddie Obropta. The four discussed Raptor Maps’ founding as well as the past and future of the solar industry.

Choice quote: “I’m not big on graphic t-shirts, but I do like the ones that say, ‘there is no Planet B.’ If you want to really summarize a concept in a succinct way that makes it stick for people, we do believe that through and through.’” — Nikhil Vadhavkar

Listen to the episode here.


Episode 2, “It Didn’t Matter Til It Mattered,” Featuring President and Founder of Trifecta Construction Solutions Dr. Jennifer Langeul

Solar PV Podcast for News, Insights, and Information

On this episode, Dr. Jennifer Languell, the President and Founder of Trifecta Construction Solutions, discussed how solar power has been used in the 70,000-square-acre mixed-use Florida development Babcock Ranch, as well as its resilience when facing extreme weather.

Choice quote: “It didn’t matter til it mattered — no one really cared what we were doing until we were hit with a Category 4 hurricane.” — Dr. Jennifer Languell

Listen to the episode here.


Episode 3, “Come Save the Planet,” Featuring Director of Construction for Northeast Solar PV and Energy Storage for Ameresco Mike Williamson

Solar PV Podcast for News, Insights, and Information

Mike Williamson, Director of Construction for Northeast Solar PV and Energy Storage for Ameresco, talked about how solar farms are constructed, the complexity in how you report and work with different stakeholders, and the importance of battery energy storage systems on the third episode of Raptor Report.

Choice quote: “There’s a huge gap between what the bank wants to see and understand and what the guys in the field want to see and understand. So my role is being monkey in the middle and understanding what everyone else’s needs are and how they communicate those items, because the nomenclature changes from financing to construction.” — Mike Williamson

Listen to the episode here.


Episode 4, “Grandfather Solar,” Featuring Founder and President of Jupiter Power Andy Bowman

Solar PV Podcast for News, Insights, and Information

On the fourth episode of the podcast, Andy Bowman, Founder and President of Jupiter Power, discusses a career as a clean energy entrepreneur that has spanned decades and involved overseeing 3.5GW+ of wind and solar projects across the U.S.

Choice quote: “In my career, I’ve seen a lot of cases made for people to buy renewables because it was virtuous. What I’ve actually seen is the way that markets work is what they really love is, ‘what’s the best economic deal out there?’ And what I’ve seen over, you know, the last couple decades is a lot of growth and renewables because they worked in the market, because they delivered the cheapest price.” — Andy Bowman

Listen to the episode here.


Episode 5, “Sunshine and Skinny Jeans,” Featuring Clean Solar Hybrid Installer Dustin Hayes

Solar PV Podcast for News, Insights, and Information

Clean Solar Hybrid Installer Dustin Hayes talked about his experience installing solar for residential properties and his efforts involving energy storage systems on this episode of Raptor Report.

Choice quote: “A lot of homeowners, they’ll buy… solar and they don’t know what they’re buying half the time. It’s like you spend this much money on this system and you haven’t done the research on what it actually does.” — Dustin Hayes

Listen to the episode here.


Episode 6, “Make Data Matter,” Featuring Head of Downstream Development for PV Evolution Labs Chris Stearns

Solar PV Podcast for News, Insights, and Information

Chris Stearns, the Head of Downstream Development for PV Evolution Labs, came on the podcast to chat about why data related to the performance and reliability of PV module technology is so valuable to solar stakeholders.

Choice quote: “One way to mitigate risk if you have to pivot to a different vendor than the one you initially specified is to make sure the modules are performing acceptably through third-party testing. And that’s where we come in, to offer that third-party testing and to qualify the reliability of a given module and a given bill of materials.” — Chris Stearns

Listen to the episode here.


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.



Drone-in-a-Box, The Future of Solar Operations and Maintenance

Drone-in-a-Box, The Future of Solar Operations and Maintenance

Image provided by Skydio, Inc.


Drone-in-a-Box tech is likely to be standard on large-scale utility (100MW+) solar facilities in the next 1-2 years

Operations and maintenance of utility-scale solar farms is a balancing act of safely maximizing system performance while reducing OPEX (Operating Expenses). Safety is non-negotiable, so the focus is finding a balance between system performance and OPEX. Historically, choosing one can negatively impact the other. It is rare that an innovation comes along that checks all boxes (pun intended), but we are on the verge of exactly that with Drone-in-a-Box.

What is Drone-in-a-Box, exactly, and why is it important to solar operations?

The Drone-in-a-Box (DIAB) is the latest evolution of autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology utilizing drones that can be remotely deployed via self-contained “boxes.” These boxes are weather-resistant enclosures that contain the necessary equipment to communicate with the UAV as well as recharge. Raptor Maps is partnering with Skydio to enable solar-specific use cases with Skydio’s Dock. This enables solar asset owners/operators to automate routine & ad-hoc inspections using drone-in-a-box while delivering seamless integrations to Raptor Maps.

Traditionally, a pilot with a ground-based controller is required to be present to operate the UAV. DIAB systems can be remotely operated or deployed autonomously and carry out on demand, or pre-mapped missions. Once the missions are completed, the DIAB returns to its box to be protected from the elements as well as recharge and/or upload information.

This is important to utility-scale (in this case 100MW+) systems because the technology can safely maximize system performance while reducing OPEX in many areas. The primary use of drones equipped with IR cameras in utility solar is to scan for thermal anomalies annually. Armed with Raptor Solar reporting and software, operators can then remedy high-priority findings. Many of the highest priority findings impact system performance, but if sites are only inspected annually, months may pass before losses are identified. The integration of a DIAB will allow owners and operators to roll out more frequent inspections and save valuable power production.

Looking at a few scenarios outlined in Figure 1, we are able to break down and visualize the cost differences between traditional data capture (operator + drone) and DIAB. For all examples, we assume a 100MW system and adjust the scan frequency with traditional methods vs DIAB. Most notably, the red line shows purchasing a new DIAB every 10 years and performing annual maintenance on the device is aligned with today’s cost of a single annual scan. This means that DIAB will unlock the full suite of services and labor-saving activities listed below for the same investment most facilities are modeled with today. It is clear that DIAB has the potential to impart significant savings over the life of a solar asset.

Key Benefits of Drone-in-a-Box to Utility-Scale Solar

The true power of DIAB to operators and asset owners has yet to be made clear. However, here are some of the top ways it can be utilized.

Quarterly IR Inspections

Traditionally, aerial IR inspections are performed annually or bi-annually due to OPEX budget constraints as outlined in Figure 1. DIAB unlocks the ability to increase inspection frequency to quarterly for nearly the same cost as a single annual scan. This allows asset owners and operators to fully understand the DC health of the system throughout the year and plan mitigation while increasing system performance. The industry has also seen an increase in extreme weather which can be damaging to solar assets. Increased scan frequency and the ability to have scans on-demand will allow for extreme weather damage to be assessed immediately following an event.

Substation and Overhead Line Inspections

Since substation IR inspections are currently only performed annually, it is possible for critical components to overheat and fail over time. Increasing the inspection frequency (to weekly, monthly, or quarterly) of these key components and terminations will allow operators to identify areas of concern much earlier. Many times a loose bolt or stressed termination can cause catastrophic failure if left uncorrected. Identifying these problem spots sooner with DIAB can potentially save hundreds of thousands in equipment and performance losses.

Overhead lines within the array are becoming more common as systems get larger and sprawl on more dispersed parcels. Inspecting these lines currently requires the dispatch of specialized technicians and equipment. Frayed or overheating connections on overhead lines can be very costly to repair and can potentially force whole blocks of arrays offline. Utilizing DIAB will reduce this expense and increase inspection frequency.

Reactive Inspections

When a block, inverter, or combiner is suspected of underperformance (or offline), DIAB can quickly be deployed to gather IR and RGB images that are critical for Control Room engineers to understand the outage. This potentially prevents a truck roll and allows the full diagnosis remotely. At present, remote operators and field technicians need to coordinate reactive inspections and the cost of these inspections can be higher than annual inspections due to mobilization.

Monitor Vegetation, Civil, and Fences

Vegetation maintenance on utility-scale solar facilities is a significant part of the annual project budget and in some cases can be more than half. Timing your vegetation activities (spraying and mowing) is a key component to getting the most out of your spending. Implementing a weekly vegetation inspection by DIAB will allow you to time these more appropriately. Monitoring overgrown vegetation will also prevent module shading and ensure better system performance.

Roads, fences, and inverter pads are part of routine operator maintenance. Most of these inspections do not lead to improved system performance and can take time away from other activities that can. With DIAB you will be able to inspect roads and inverter pads for erosion and examine fences for damage from the control center. This frees up valuable time for your site team to make high-priority repairs.

Security and Site Access

Site security on facilities as large as thousands of acres can create technology, manpower, and cost constraints. In many cases, this means large sections of the array will have no security oversight and rely on perimeter inspections. With a DIAB, operators will be able to schedule regular perimeter inspections as well as respond in real time to security concerns.

Another benefit will be monitoring gate access and having visual confirmation that the permitted visitors are the only ones accessing the site. On NERC (North American Electrical Reliability Corporation) facilities, this access logging is a requirement of CIP (Critical Infrastructure Protection), and the DIAB images can act as redundancy to sign-in sheets.

Weekly Tracker Verification

Utility-scale tracker systems are equipped with remote system monitoring and an array of TCUs (Tracker Controller Units) that allow control centers and plant managers to identify misalignment and offline tracker tables. As with any system, this can be flawed, and device connectivity can make it difficult to discern if the equipment is offline vs not communicating. A weekly high-altitude overview flight with a DIAB will allow for monitoring redundancy and verification of tracker functionality. Identifying and correcting misaligned or offline trackers will lead to better system performance.

How to Prepare for the Emergence of Drone-in-a-Box

Implementing routine aerial IR inspections today is a major step to normalizing these activities on your site. This coupled with a robust digital twin in our Raptor Solar application will lay the mapping groundwork for rolling out DIAB in the near future. Raptor Maps is working with hardware integrators to stay at the forefront of the DIAB roll-out as well as uncovering ways our application can supercharge this technology.