Do I Really Need Software to Analyze My Solar Farm Drone Data?

Do I Really Need Software to Analyze My Solar Farm Drone Data?

Yes.

Despite reducing the time to perform a field inspection by more than 90%, drones still create lots of information that has to be reviewed and converted into usable formats. If you’re new to using drones for PV system inspections, you may think that it’s easier and cheaper to manually review this information. However, the thousands of photos or hours of video you capture with your drone require large amounts of time to review. The fact is that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are much more efficient than humans. They also cost less too.

“As soon as you put an infrared camera on a drone, what used to take three days takes two hours instead” – Jason Handley, Director of Smart Grid Technology and Operations, Duke Energy

Duke Energy and other companies involved in owning, operating, and/or managing solar farms are rapidly adopting drones with infrared cameras to replace manual field inspections that often take days to complete. Now, these companies are spending large amounts of time manually analyzing the drone inspection data.

It’s critical to realize that the drone is only half of the solution in order to maximize the ROI of your investment. Today, the technology exists to use the data captured with a drone in a much more automated way with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. This technology solves the bottleneck that quickly forms when you attempt to manually review drone data from a collection of commercial and industrial (C&I) sites, a larger utility-scale site, or an entire portfolio. Raptor Maps’ AI solar software automates the review of both thermal and high-resolution drone captured imagery, turning this data into actionable reports and delivering increased workforce efficiency. 

According to Jason Handley of Duke Energy, “As soon as you put an infrared camera on a drone, what used to take three days takes two hours instead,” (AutomationWorld). Drones allow companies to reduce the time to perform a field inspection by more than 90%, but the burden has shifted to manually reviewing this data and convert it into analytics and actionable reports. Recognizing the value of software in the drone space, Handley advocated, “if we can make this work with AI to see where things are failing, it’s going to be a lot better for us going forward.”

“Work smarter…not harder,” – Every PV field technician 

*A typical 4 MWdc drone inspection dataset

Raptor Maps solar analytics and reporting software solves the issues of internally processing drone data on multiple fronts. Using machine learning software to do this eliminates the need to have skilled technicians or other employees clicking through images for multiple days, trying to find and localize every anomaly. In an industry constantly strained with labor shortages, these employees can instead apply their talents towards more skilled task.

AI software has the ability to review hundreds of megawatts of aerial thermal and color imagery in a fraction the time a group of people are capable of. It is less expensive to pursue this option over paying an entire team to manage and execute data analyzation. In addition, computers and AI are not prone to the same errors as humans and increases reporting accuracy and consistency across portfolios of PV sites. While drone technology has been utilized by leading electric companies to improve speed and safety for solar farm inspection, its value is not fully maximized without a software application.

You can learn more about Raptor Maps AI solar software here or you can contact us for more information here.

Greentown Labs Features Raptor Maps in Startup Spotlight Article

Greentown Labs Features Raptor Maps in Startup Spotlight Article

Greentown Labs has featured Raptor Maps as a startup “paving the way for industrial inspection and AI-driven data reporting.” As drones set up with infrared and high-resolution imaging cameras are being adopted to solar farms, operations and maintenance companies are finding themselves with large quantities of data that needs to be analyzed. Raptor Maps AI solution automates this process by identifying, classifying, and localizing solar farm deficiencies through a software solution which uses machine learning.

By eliminating the need to manually scroll through the hundreds of collected aerial images, Raptor Maps is able to streamline asset management and maintenance for companies using drones to inspect PV systems. As drone technology is being leveraged to optimize solar inspection, companies such as Raptor Maps have found a niche in turning the accumulated data into valuable deliverables.

About Greentown Labs

Greentown Labs, the largest clean technology incubator in the United States, is host to over 70 companies tackling energy and environmental challenges on a global scale. The office and lab space in Somerville, Mass. was founded in 2011 to support entrepreneurs and innovative startups across the clean technology ecosystem. An extensive network of partners and investors sponsor Greentown Labs, providing its entrepreneurs with resources and funding to transform their visions into realities. Learn more about Greentown Labs here.

Live Webinar: RMUS and Raptor Maps Present the Entire Process of Inspecting a Solar Farm and Creating Reports

Live Webinar: RMUS and Raptor Maps Present the Entire Process of Inspecting a Solar Farm and Creating Reports

From Turning Propellers to Turning Wrenches

Do you provide drone-based PV system (solar farm) inspection services? Are you trying to break into the solar industry and provide solar farm inspections for new clients? Are you interested in learning about how you can deliver useful solar farm management reports to your clients? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this webinar is for you!

Join Jon McBride, VP of Technology at RMUS, and Nikhil Vadhavkar, CEO and co-founder of Raptor Maps, for a free webinar April 25th at 2:00pm EDT (UTC-4) as they walk through a how to perform a solar farm inspection, from flight planning and piloting the drone to the creation of final deliverables.

What you’ll learn:

  • How to fly and inspect a solar farm with a drone and infrared camera
  • Why you should also collect high-resolution color images and the quickest way to collect this second data set
  • Why you should be delivering a PV system inspection report to your client and not just a thermal map of the solar farm
  • How Raptor Maps has made it easy for anyone to use drones to manage solar assets

According to Greentech Media, the leading market research authority for the electricity industry, 2018 will be the first-ever-triple-digit year for the global solar market, with more than 100 GW (gigawatts) of solar coming online, source link. To put this in perspective, 100 GW is more than 400,000 acres of solar projects being completed by the end of 2018. All those GWs will need trained pilots to perform solar farm inspections!

*If you are unable to attend the live webinar, please sign up anyway and we’ll send you the recording.

Live Webinar: April 24th, 2018 at 2:00 PM EST
Followed by a 30-minute Live Q&A

Announcing the Winner of the Raptor Solar Contest

Announcing the Winner of the Raptor Solar Contest

Thank you to everyone who participated in Raptor Maps’ first drone inspection contest focused on solar farm inspections!

We held a drone inspection contest last month to promote Raptor Maps’ latest analytics product, Raptor Solar, and showcase some of the best drone pilots, service providers, and aerial thermographers on Earth. We had entries from all over the world, including inspections of PV systems ranging from small commercial rooftop PV systems to utility-scale solar power plants. Thank you to everyone who participated!

Congratulations to Yuji Kuwamizu at afterFIT, the winner of 10 megawatts (MWdc) of free Raptor Solar Artificial-Intelligence (AI) software analysis and PV system inspection reports and 1 free year of the Raptor App in our ‘Raptor Solar’ contest. His contest entry solar inspection data was reviewed by Raptor Maps’ automated software solution and the analytics were used to create a PV system inspection .PDF report, as well as online report, .KML, and Excel (see below).

Yuji and afterFIT were nice enough to give us permission to share the PV system inspection report. You can review the entire report HERE.

Our judges evaluated all entries based on data quality. The highest quality data was defined as the following:

  • Thermal images were radiometric (R-JPEG, thermal TIFF)
  • Images were geotagged and timestamped
  • Images were free from glare
  • Images were free from motion blur
  • Cell and module level defects could be seen (typically 5.5 cm/pixel or less ground sampling distance)
  • The solar installation was completely captured without missing any modules
  • In the event of a tie, the data collected at the fastest data collection speed (MWdc/min) wins

Congratulations Yuji!

About Afterfit Co., Ltd. Afterfit Engineering Co., Ltd. (afterFIT):

afterFIT is headquartered in Okayama City, Japan with several branch offices throughout Japan. The company provides development, construction, maintenance, and maintenance of large solar power plants throughout the Japanese solar market.

Webinar Recap: Inspecting Solar Farms with Thermal Imaging Drones (Part 2)

Webinar Recap: Inspecting Solar Farms with Thermal Imaging Drones (Part 2)

In partnership with FLIR Systems, the world’s largest supplier of thermal imaging technology, Raptor Maps recently hosted a webinar to cover the basics of inspecting solar farms with drones. With 1,500 registered viewers, we reached an unprecedented audience interested in applying this technology to detect issues and optimize asset management.

The entire webinar can be viewed below for anyone who was unable to tune in live. The following are responses to questions that were received during the webinar. Part 1, a summary of the main themes, can be found here.

Webinar Q&A

Should I make a thermal map as the solar inspection deliverable?

Raptor Maps does not recommend creating radiometric orthomosaics (thermal maps) of solar farms as the deliverable for a solar farm inspection. Thermal maps require flights at higher altitudes, resulting in a loss of detail, which is exacerbated by the blending of radiometric images. Thermal maps of solar farms are also unable to provide the detail a client needs in order to identify, classify, and localize issues. The high sidelap required means additional time spent in the field. Raptor Maps has developed its solar software solution to deliver the analytics and reports that solar companies expect from a drone inspection.

Should we take videos or photos to capture images of a solar farm?

We recommend taking infrared and high-resolution color (RGB) photos with your drone.

What flight planning strategy does Raptor Maps recommend to produce the highest quality data?

  • Infrared images with a high overlap (in the direction of flight) and low sidelap (between passes).
  • Color (RGB) orthomosaic flight pattern at 250–400 ft to enhance report quality. Required if no satellite image of site.

Exact altitude depends on your camera/lens setup, but a minimum 5 cm/pixel ground sampling distance (GSD) is necessary for cell-level issues. If you are using a multicopter, maintain heading at all times. Fly in a grid pattern either parallel OR perpendicular to the rows. Confirm your images contain metadata (GPS location, relative altitude, etc.) and are free from motion blur and glare.

We recommend using the flight planning app provided by the manufacturer of your drone. This FLIR forum is a great place to learn more about flight planning apps for thermal inspections, link here.

How should we angle our camera for optimal data collection?

Start with your camera pointed nadir (straight down) and tilt up to 20 degrees to avoid glare and get the best view of the modules. However, your camera should not be aligned to the modules straight-on. See this technical note to understand why.

What is the value of the Raptor Maps’ solar software solution?

Raptor Maps eliminates the time-consuming process of turning your aerial data into actionable information for solar professionals. Raptor Maps has developed Raptor Solar™, the first Artificial Intelligence (AI) software solution, to help you process thermal images, color images, and site data generated from aerial solar site inspections with drones and/or manned aircraft. The software manages the identification, classification, and localization of every solar farm issue captured in the inspection dataset.

The software analysis includes finding and classifying​:

  • Major electrical issues (inverter, combiner box failure, reversed polarity)
  • Defect identification at the string, module, and cell level
 (e.g., activated bypass diodes, shattered and soiled modules, etc.)
  • Tracker and racking issues
  • Site issues (e.g. shading, vegetation, flooding, security risks, etc.)

You can learn more about the Raptor Solar™ software here.

What is the thermal certification requirement to conduct these inspections?

There are no thermography licensing requirements required to successfully capture data for qualitative assessments of solar farms. However, it is valuable to have be familiar with thermography basics and understand the science behind these inspections. If you are interested in learning more, we recommend attending a Level 1 Thermography course and/or familiarizing yourself with the science behind aerial thermography with FLIR Delta.

How is the price determined for a solar inspection using drone technology?

There are many variables that impact the costs of performing this inspection, as well as the price that a solar company is able to pay. These variables include: size of the solar farm, the amount of work included in the project (multiple sites, multiple inspections a year, etc.), the location of the site and travel time/distance, the country/region of the drone inspection, the country/region of the solar company hiring for this service, type of client hiring for this service, etc. We strongly recommend structuring costs for this service based on the size of the solar farm and/or size of the total volume of work the client needs done.

How does Raptor Maps present a solar farm inspection report?

We offer a sample PV system inspection report here (link to be updated shortly). Raptor Maps solar software analysis delivers results through an online portal as well as standard digital and downloadable formats including .PDF, Excel, and .KML. You can also learn more about the software’s analysis capabilities here.

Are there any chance of misreadings from inspection results?

Infrared inspections capture effects such as shadowing, for example, which may appear as hotspots or damaged modules from thermal data alone. While the pattern can help to distinguish these types of effects, high-resolution color photos are an important complement to thermal imaging and will help you identify the root cause of issues, and help you avoid delivering false positives to a client. It is important to capture this imagery of the solar farm within the same timeframe/day that you inspect the site with a thermal imaging camera.

What does Raptor maps charge for software/processing?

Raptor Maps solar analysis and reporting software is priced per MWdc of site data processed. The costs include complete post-processing of infrared and color (RGB) data sets, inspection analytics, and comprehensive reports available in digital and downloadable formats. If you need a quote, please contact us here.

Webinar Recap: Inspecting Solar Farms with Thermal Imaging Drones (Part 1)

Webinar Recap: Inspecting Solar Farms with Thermal Imaging Drones (Part 1)

In partnership with FLIR Systems, the world’s largest supplier of thermal imaging technology, Raptor Maps recently hosted a webinar to cover the basics of inspecting solar farms with drones. With 1,500 registered viewers, we reached an unprecedented audience interested in applying this technology to detect issues and optimize asset management.

The entire webinar can be viewed below for anyone who was unable to tune in live. The following is a summary of the central themes discussed in the webinar. Part 2, a recap of the most frequently asked questions during the webinar, can be found here.

Commercial Drone Operations for Solar Farm Inspections

Drones are more accessible than ever before, and the market for thermal imaging is rapidly expanding. A remote pilot certificate can now be earned through a knowledge test, and the drone/camera hardware has become more integrated and user-friendly. As the photovoltaic (PV) solar industry experiences double-digit annual growth, drones have become an effective and efficient means to analyze PV assets ranging from utility-scale power plants to community and industrial installations. The majority of operations and maintenance (O&M) companies are either flying drones themselves or contracting drone services, and asset owners are also realizing the benefits.

Value of Thermal Imaging in PV System (Solar Farm) Inspections

Aerial thermal imaging detects PV system anomalies from the inverter (large) level down to the string, module (panel), and cell levels. When areas in the PV system are defective, the energy from the sun is not converted into electrical energy, resulting in an increase in temperature. Additionally, changes in the surface properties of a module manifest as a difference in emissivity, which is detected with a thermal camera. The results of aerial thermal imaging inform asset management, and save 2–5 times the labor cost in the field. Every single module is analyzed, and site condition is quantitatively tracked over time.

Planning Inspections

It is important to know the purpose of the PV system inspection and understand the level of detail a client needs prior to data collection. You should also check to see if there is satellite imagery of the PV system; if not, plan on capturing color (RGB) images to for an orthomosaic. Even if there is satellite imagery, color (RGB) images improve the quality of the report. Make sure to note the module technology (e.g., polycrystalline, CeTe), wiring (e.g., number of modules per string), and other pertinent information.

Collecting High-Quality Data

Fly on a sunny day, and avoid glare and motion blur. Take radiometric images with your thermal camera, as well as a color (RGB) dataset.We recommend high overlap (in the direction of flight). Low sidelap (between passes) is acceptable, as this will save a considerable amount of time in the field. Fly either parallel or perpendicular to the rows (not diagonally). A high-altitude site overview is helpful for detecting larger issues. Ensure your images contain metadata (GPS, altitude, timestamp, etc.). Verify your data before leaving the site.

Creating Valuable Deliverables

Raptor Solar deliverables are optimized for asset owners, performance managers, field technicians, and other solar professionals. Managers need summary statistics, grouped logically, and analysis to facilitate decision-making. Technicians need to quickly and accurately locate an identified module. Deliverables should integrate into the existing workflow. The client should be able to security share the results with their customers and within their own organization to participate in the decision-making process. Changes to the site should be quantitatively tracked over time.