Opportunities for Drone Inspections in Solar: PV System Commissioning

Opportunities for Drone Inspections in Solar: PV System Commissioning

The renewable energy sector has seen a tremendous amount of growth over the last few years, and PV (solar) has shifted to the forefront of new clean energy development. In fact according to SEIA, Solar has ranked first or second in new electric capacity additions in each of the last 5 years.”  As of 2017, nearly 56 GW of total solar capacity has now been installed in the US. Solar sites are being built at a never before seen pace and scale on rooftops, deserts, northern climates that see snow and below 0ºF temperatures, and other varying locations around the world where solar is a new energy source. 

 

With the massive growth of solar projects in development and being completed around the world, there are several opportunities for solar companies and asset owners to replace traditional, labor-intensive tasks with drones. Drones can provide value across the cradle-to-grave lifespan of a solar asset, from initial planning/design to ongoing annual maintenance. Using drones within the commissioning of a new PV system is a quick and effective method to assess the quality and operational health of a new plant. In this post, we will cover the commissioning process of a solar project, the benefits of using drones during this stage, and how drones specifically are helping teams reduce time in the field and labor costs associated with PV system commissioning.

 

What is commissioning?

Commissioning is the process which ensures that the PV asset owner’s goals and needs have been met and maintained. This can encompass anything from construction deadlines to safety requirements. These elements are assessed through inspections which cover all aspects of the site from installation to closeout. According to SolarPro the following are to be included in the commissioning process:

  • Verify that the installation is complete.
  • Verify that the installation is safe.
  • Verify that the installation is aesthetically acceptable.
  • Verify that all components of the installation are robust and permanent.
  • Document as-built conditions.
  • Verify system performance.
  • Verify proper system operation.
  • Establish performance benchmarks.
  • Complete any required acceptance documentation.
  • Train the system owner on basic system operation.

 

Benefits of Using Drone Inspections for Solar Commissioning

Because the commissioning process for PV systems is comprised of several technical inspections the use of drones has allowed field technicians, asset owners, and commissioning teams to cut time, costs, and manpower involved in PV site commissioning.

Using drones to replace the field walks, visual inspections and handheld thermal inspections saves large amounts of time and enables teams to spend labor hours on other high-skilled tasks. Drone inspections also deliver a more granular level of data to the end user and a more complete picture of the site in both thermal and high-resolution imagery. Top-down and elevated imagery captured with a drone allows for all anomalies to be identified clearly and in a consistent manner.

 

Commissioning for Warranty

The commissioning process also plays a key part in issuing warranty claims. Many contractors, vendors, and service providers are involved in the development and construction of a solar site and many times warranties are provided to support the work done.

Engineering firms, EPCs, and drone inspection service providers are all beginning to use drones at this stage of a project. Every party involved in this stage of a project can leverage drone data and solar software like Raptor Solar to quickly and easily confirm work has been done as planned.

 

Documentation of Site Commissioning with Raptor Maps

One of the most important factors of commissioning is proper documentation. When performing inspections in a site portfolio manner it is important to have understandable and cohesive reporting and documentation for all aspects of the commissioning process. 

Using analytic and reporting software like Raptor Solar allows companies to turn their drone imagery/video into comprehensive analytics and baseline reports on the overall DC health and condition of a site. A report that provides data and supported imagery on every module of a site will enable asset owners and managers to establish a baseline dataset of the site and compare future inspections against this baseline and track the development of the site over time.

 

Conclusion

With the solar industry growing at an unprecedented rate, new ways to implement drones for asset monitoring and inspection are being uncovered. The benefits of using drones for commissioning inspections are endless as they are providing more detailed inspections for warranty claims, installation checks, and verifying power performance.

Are you using or looking to use drones for solar commissioning? If so, please contact us here and our team will be in touch.

 

 

Are you interested in learning more about UAS, drone inspections of solar assets, and having your drone data converted into analytics and PV system health reports? If so, we highly recommend reviewing our recent webinar with FLIR, Inspecting Solar Farms with Thermal Imaging Drones, here.

When To Perform Your Drone PV System Inspection: 3 Key Factors to Keep in Mind

When To Perform Your Drone PV System Inspection: 3 Key Factors to Keep in Mind

Collecting aerial solar inspection data using your drone can be tricky. With numerous factors impacting the outcome of your data, it is essential to plan drone flights. People often ask Raptor Maps what’s the best way to collect clear and report-worthy data?

The answer is to know the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE of your project. WHO are you collecting data for/ WHO is collecting your data? WHAT are you looking for (types and/or level of detail of anomalies on site)? WHEN are you collecting your data? WHERE is the inspection occurring (geographic location of the site)? The WHY of aerial drone solar inspections is simple: using drone inspections in the solar industry optimizes your workflow, increases productivity, reduces labor costs, and improves safety.

One of the most important, yet overlooked is the WHEN aspect of data collection. Factors including season, weather, and the time of day the drone inspection occurs can dramatically impact thermal data. Whether a solar asset owner, O&M company, or service provider, the quality of drone solar inspection data matters.

Keep reading as we break down the following WHEN factors:

  • Time of Year
  • Weather
  • Time of Day

 

1. Best Season to Perform Aerial Solar Inspections

Inspections of solar assets are best performed in clear, sunny weather months. Although it depends on the geographical location of the solar site, drone inspections during the spring, summer, and early fall tend to produce the best data because of their tendency for high irradiance. In fact, irradiance on a clear summer day can be up to 20 times higher than on a cloudy winter day. The sun, warmer climate, and higher irradiance associated with these seasons allow for site anomalies such as hot spots and string/module failures to be more visible in thermal imagery. The long days during summer months also allow for a larger window to collect high-quality data. Extended hours of sunlight will provide you with greater opportunity to collect proper data and also allows you time to re-fly if needed.

 

2. Fly in Perfect Weather Conditions  

Flying when the sun is shining is the most important weather factor to take into account. High irradiance produces clear data and makes defects evident when performing post-processing/data analysis. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the recommended minimum irradiance to perform thermal inspections is 600 W/m2. This describes the amount of solar (radiant) power per surface unit area necessary to perform thermal inspections. Pay extra attention when flying at high latitudes in the winter during low-irradiance conditions since. Low wind conditions are also a must in order to keep your drone on the mission course, preserve its battery life, and capture images free of motion blur and glare.

 

3. Midday Flights Lead to Quality Data

High irradiance, as stated before, is a key factor for collecting quality data. With the sun at its highest, and irradiance at its strongest, midday flights tend to produce the highest quality data. However, stay away from performing inspections close to, or around noon in order to avoid glare in your data set. Plan to start data collection mid-morning so you can collect, review, and re-fly (if needed) during high irradiance hours.  

 

In conclusion, WHEN you fly your solar assets can make or break your thermal data. Look to collect data in the summer months where the sun is strong, the wind is low, and there is an ample amount of time to perform your drone solar inspection. Learn more about collecting thermal data by watching our webinar with FLIR Systems here.

 

 

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.

10 Most Common PV System Anomalies Detected by Drones (Part A)

10 Most Common PV System Anomalies Detected by Drones (Part A)

Solar companies involved in the design, build, management, and/or maintenance of PV systems are increasingly adopting UAS (drones) to replace field work that takes large amounts of time and money. Field walks, IV curve tests, voltage checks, and handheld thermal scans of modules are just a few examples of tasks being replaced with drones by Asset Management and O&M teams around the world. Drones set up with both thermal (IR) and high-resolution (RGB) imaging cameras allow for commonly mislabeled anomalies, ie. soiling, to be properly identified and not mistaken for module hot spots.

In this post, we are going to cover the range of PV system anomalies that can be identified during an aerial solar farm inspection performed by a drone. Before we get started, it’s important to make sure you’re familiar with the general workings of PV systems and how they operate. This is a must when it comes to inspecting solar farms effectively with a drone. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Solar farm → A solar farm can have hundreds of rows→ Single or multiple strings are within a row→ Strings are made up of modulesModules are made up of several photovoltaic cells (Polycrystalline, amorphous, TPV, multi-junction)

 

1. Module Level Issues  

Possibly the most common anomaly discovered during aerial drone inspections are module level anomalies. Several types of anomalies can appear within the frame of a PV module, including cell hot spots, multi-cell hot spots, and activated bypass diodes. Although not as severe as string issues, module anomalies, especially when in abundance can drastically reduce the efficiency of a PV system, and when left unattended over long periods of time, might develop into a more serious issue.

2. Shadowing

Shadowing of PV modules, strings, and rows is a commonly identified anomaly from a drone inspection. Shadowing can be caused by vegetation, surrounding structures, and even adjacent solar rows. Although most occurrences of shadowing do not require PV technician attention, shadowing due to vegetation can lead to larger problems if not addressed earlier.

Identifying shadowing in both the IR (thermal) and high-resolution drone inspection imagery can help Asset Management and O&M teams more effectively spend budgeted maintenance costs on vegetation management. We recently helped a solar plant manager in south-central Asia use his internal drone program and regular drone inspections to make more informed decisions on when to dispatch his vegetation management contractor.

3. Shattering & Soiling

Some issues are detectable through the RGB imagery taken during data collection. These anomalies are mostly associated with the physical attributes of the farm. Shattering (cracked glass) of panels due to module installation, maintenance, racking shifts, or severe weather is an anomaly that can be easily detected with RGB imagery.

Soiling from dust, bird droppings, and other debris can also heavily affect the efficiency of PV modules.

4. String Level Issues

String issues are the most severe (and easily detectable) anomalies when flying and analyzing your inspection data. Strings (composed of modules) can be warm, offline, have reversed polarity, or completely fail which causes large energy losses within the PV system.

 

5. Tilt Tracker Alignment and Racking Issues

If the solar farm is built on tilt trackers rows and panels can get stuck in a certain orientation reducing their efficiency. Not all solar sites are built on tilt trackers but, those that need to be thoroughly assessed for angle discrepancies caused by installation, or maintenance errors.

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.

Webinar Recap: One-on-One with Gresco and Raptor Maps: UAS, Solar Software, and PV System Inspection Reports

Webinar Recap: One-on-One with Gresco and Raptor Maps: UAS, Solar Software, and PV System Inspection Reports

Raptor Maps partnered with Gresco for a webinar covering the specifics of UAS, Solar Software, and PV System Inspection Reports. The goals of the webinar were to break down:  

  • Why UAS (drones) are a valuable tool when it comes to managing and inspecting solar farm(s) for performance issues
  • What drone models and cameras are recommended for performing PV system inspections
  • Opportunities to incorporate drones across the lifecycle of a PV system, from construction to O&M  
  • How teams can turn radiometric (thermal) and RGB data collected during a drone inspection of a solar farm into actionable reports

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.

Why UAS (Drones) Are a Valuable Tool for Management and Maintenance of Solar Assets

Aerial drone asset inspections have become the most effective and comprehensive method of solar maintenance and management. Drones provide an eye in the sky and help asset owners and managers cut the time and manpower needed to keep their PV systems operating efficiently. Construction progress monitoring, site selection, and preventative maintenance inspections of solar assets are only a few of the many ways drones provide value to utilities, renewable energy, and engineering companies working in the solar industry.

Companies involved in the construction of PV systems can use weekly drone scans and data analytics to deliver inspection reports that track progress, evaluate growth, and stay on schedule for project completion. Aerial inspection data also allows for comparison between different parts of a site or different sites across your portfolio, to properly maintain and manage your solar installations. As a tool for site selection, asset owners can get the data to help them evaluate sites with topographic, grade, and shading considerations, and determine the best location for their solar project.

 

What Drone Models and Cameras are Recommended for Performing PV System Inspections

Raptor Maps and Gresco suggest specific types of hardware when it comes to flying solar. The most important is a multi-copter drone, that can be mounted with a radiometric (thermal) camera, and has extended flight times to accommodate larger PV system inspections. The DJI Matrice 200 series drone is a highly recommended model that checks off all boxes for these inspections.

For solar farm inspections, we suggest performing two flights as part of your data collection or flying with a camera that allows you to collect both radiometric (thermal) data and RGB imagery simultaneously, such as the DJI Zenmuse XT2. We strongly recommend a radiometric 13mm 640x512 30Hz camera model IR solar inspections.

To learn more about why you should inspect a solar farm with an infrared AND a high-resolution color (RGB) imaging camera click here.

 

Opportunities to Incorporate Drones Across the Lifecycle of a PV System

Drones and the data they generate are used by a wide range of individuals in the solar industry. Field technicians and asset owners may simply look at the aerial images to gain a better knowledge about the functionality of the solar farm. However, others have a robust profile in Raptor Maps to analyze the identified defects that are reducing the production of their PV systems.

Raptor Maps software turns your drone inspection data into comprehensive system analytics and actionable reports. This allows solar asset owners, performance managers, and field technicians to stay up to date on the health of their PV system, drive productivity, and reduce costs.

 

How Raptor Maps Enables Teams to Turn UAS Data Into Actionable Reports

Raptor Maps software provides detailed inspection data analysis using artificial intelligence and machine learning for both thermal and high-resolution color imagery of solar farms from 100 kWp to 300+ MWp.

Raptor Maps software automatically produces a PV system inspection report with analytics generated during data review. Identified anomalies are classified by type and localized within the site, enabling technicians to effectively respond to site defects. We offer a sample PV system report here.

Comprehensive reports help Asset Management and O&M isolate areas with the most loss, identify root causes, confirm site commissioning, and provide the proof needed for warranty claims with the EPC or module manufacturer.

 

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 Gresco, Gresco Technology Solution is a division of Gresco Utility Supply, Inc. For more than 50 years, Gresco has served the utility and electrical supply needs of hundreds of customers in the Southeast region. It is their mission to serve their industry partners in a manner that exceeds expectations, at a price that is within your budget. Gresco understands that you have commitments to fulfill with your customers, just as they do to you. ­­­Gresco has extensive experience working with; Rural Electric Co-Operatives (Co-Ops), Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs), Municipals (Munis), and Contractors.

5 Benefits of Using Drones for PV System Inspections

5 Benefits of Using Drones for PV System Inspections

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.

Live Webinar: One-on-One with Gresco and Raptor Maps: UAS, Solar Software, and PV System Inspection Reports

Live Webinar: One-on-One with Gresco and Raptor Maps: UAS, Solar Software, and PV System Inspection Reports

 

Do you design, build, manage, and/or own PV plants? UAS are quickly becoming common tools used in every stage of a solar project.

From inspecting a site for planning, monitoring construction progress, and even replacing manual preventative maintenance inspections with thermal and high-resolution UAS inspections, drones are helping utility and energy teams lower operating costs, increase system performance, and standardize & compare assets across a portfolio.

Gresco will be hosting a live webinar with their software partners, Raptor Maps. Join Jamie Gose and John Nunes from the UAS team at Gresco Technology Solutions, along with Nikhil Vadhavkar, CEO and co-founder of Raptor Maps, for a discussion on using drones to inspect PV systems and how to convert that information into actionable reports for management and field technicians. There will also be a Q&A.

As drones continue to be adopted by utilities and alternative energy companies, drones and Raptor Maps enable better system performance and reduced operating costs.

What you’ll learn:

  • Why UAS are a valuable tool for utilities and alternative energy companies with solar assets
  • What the recommended drones models and payloads are for utilities and alternative energy companies
  • Opportunities to incorporate drones across the lifecycle of a solar project
  • How Raptor Maps enables teams to turn UAS data into actionable reports

The webinar will be Tuesday the 8th of May, 2018 at 1pm EDT and will be followed by a 30-minute Q&A.

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