Important Aspects to Successfully Inspect a Solar Farm: Part 1

How to Reduce Your Drone Solar Farm Inspection Time & Costs by 75%

This is the first of several articles posted in a series to help you understand how to successfully inspect a solar farm with a drone and thermal camera. The goal of this specific post is to clarify how to reduce your drone solar inspection and flight time by more than 75%* by adjusting the sidelap (lateral overlap) of your drone flight to 20%.

Time is money. The more time you spend working on something (drone inspection) the more expensive that task becomes. There are also only so many hours in the day. The longer a specific task (drone inspection) takes to complete the more days you will have to spend working on that task before it is successfully completed.

Over the last 12 months Raptor Maps has helped UAV (drone) pilots inspect over 500 PV sites. For each inspection the goal was to;

  • #1 Capture the highest quality data (imagery),
  • #2 Perform the inspection in the least amount of time so the pilot can move on to the next scheduled solar farm inspection that day/week
  • #3 Deliver a final report to the client that includes all identified anomalies with locations and images of each anomaly

Because our focus is high quality data and to cover as much ground in a single flight as possible, we have come to the conclusion that a solar farm inspection should not be performed as a thermal mapping mission.

Why? Because thermal maps (orthomosaics) require extremely large amounts of data to be collected, hundreds of thousands of images in most cases. This type of data takes a very long time to collect and is low quality. Additionally, the software programs used to create thermal maps do not have a 100% success rate. On average the software will fail to produce a usable thermal map 20-30% of the time. Why waste your time and money on something that is not a quality product and may not even result in a successful end result?

To reduce your inspection flight times, and collect the highest quality imagery, you should adjust your sidelap (lateral overlap) to 20% and abandon the idea of creating a thermal map. This will allow you to reduce your drone PV inspection time by 75% and produce higher quality reports and deliverables with both radiometric thermal and high-definition visual spectrum imagery of the solar site inspected.

The goal of every aerial PV system inspection is to identify the condition of the system and potential issues that are currently unknown. You do not need to make a thermal map to correctly identify and accurately localize the PV system anomalies that are affecting performance. Instead of relying on an low quality thermal map to find anomalies, image-based post-processing software solutions like Raptor Maps can be used instead. These software solutions can  process this smaller, faster-to-collect dataset (imagery) and identify, classify, and localize all solar farm anomalies. Additionally this dataset will always create a valuable and usable final deliverable 100% of the time.

By reducing your sidelap (lateral overlap) down to 20% you can increase the amount of PV plant you are able to inspect by 400%. You can now inspect an entire solar farm in 1 day that used to take 4 days. You can now inspect 4 PV systems in 1 day (when they are close to each other) instead of the project taking 4 days. This small adjustment to your solar farm inspection flight plan will greatly increase your ROI.

If you would like to learn more about how to inspect a solar farm in the least amount of time please contact us HERE or email us directly through 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.

*This number is based on the comparison of 80/20 overlap in your thermal flight plan to the industry standard 85/85 overlap of a thermal mapping flight plan.