Aerial thermography is now the rule, rather than the exception in the solar industry. Requests for proposals will include a scope such as “Perform an aerial thermography analysis of 100% of the PV modules using a qualified supplier with appropriate expertise on an annual basis,” and include specific requirements for use cases such as commissioning, preventative maintenance, and warranty claims.

Aerial thermography has become the standard for utility-scale, commercial and industrial (C&I) for the commissioning, operation, and merger and acquisition phases of the solar lifecycle.

What is Aerial Thermography?

Aerial thermography is the most efficient way to inspect operational PV systems and has replaced IV curve tracing as the preferred method. In short, aerial thermography involves an aircraft (unmanned or piloted) with a thermal and color camera, flown in a specific pattern with data captured according to applicable standards (such as the IEC) subject to certain environmental conditions. Most importantly, aerial thermography involves analyzing and contextualizing the findings to increase PV system production and minimize cost and risk.

An aerial thermography inspection being performed through a drone (UAS). 

 

 

The Vendor Landscape

As this method grew in popularity, many vendors jumped to capitalize on this new and growing opportunity, and there have been 2 common approaches:

  1. Drone hardware and service vendors that view solar aerial thermography as another type of asset for inspection
  2. Solar inspection vendors primarily driven by services and a single inspection technology, such as piloted aircraft

The Raptor Maps approach is solar-specific software. Our emphasis is on input data, advanced analytics, and benchmarking. We use industry standards to determine the right hardware and the best methodology to capture data depending on the customer needs. Customers can either self-perform data capture or leverage Raptor Maps for the turnkey service.

This article will focus on the necessary aspects of an aerial thermography software solution and enable customers with an aerial thermography need to educate themselves, ask the right questions, and make informed decisions.

 

Feature Raptor Maps Solar Software Airplane-Only Inspection Vendors Drone Vendor
Adherence to IEC TS 62446-3:2017 X X
Widely Accepted for Commissioning, O&M, and Warranty Claims Some X
Import or Request Non-Thermal Data and Analytics to Create Your System of Record X X
All-inclusive Pricing with No Hidden Fees X Some
Original Inspection Data and Reports Shareable with Counterparties at System Level X Some
API Integration to Connect to Your Software Tools X X

 

The Importance of Software for Aerial Thermography

 

Software enables PV system owners and operators to create both immediate and long-term value. 

It begins with verifying input data quality, creating a digital model, and ends with a portfolio-wide assessment of operational risk and findings. These findings can be shared with internal and external stakeholders, such as owners, technicians, module manufacturers, EPCs, and more to drive action and remediation. 

Software that manages the solar lifecycle is purpose-built to provide output files and formats that are most useful to a given counterparty, without the need for reinspection.

Below are some considerations for specifying an aerial thermography solution:

Solution Should Increase Efficiency and Meet SLA

  • Identify, classify, localize, and prioritize findings to drive action
  • Collaborate with counterparties in-app via shared reports and original data
  • O&M and IE teams can make data-driven decisions to deploying labor and capital resources effectively
  • Scale seamlessly as you develop and acquire new portfolios of utility-scale and C&I assets

Solution Output Should be Accurate

  • Support multiple inspection and analysis levels
  • Detect anomalies from inverter down to cell level
  • Provide defensible data for warranty claims and commissioning inspections
  • Minimize false-negative and false-positive rates in data and findings.

Solution Should Provide Original, Auditable Data 

  • Data proved to be captured and analyzed following the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) TS 62446-3:2017 standards for aerial thermography solar PV inspections
  • Integration of pyranometer data to prove minimum irradiance level during the inspection
  • Original radiometric thermal and color data provided for the entire PV system without false blending anomalies
  • Data and capture conditions can be reviewed systematically by equipment manufacturer and data scientists

Solution Should Reduce Risk

  • Benchmark your PV systems and portfolios against a statistically significant global dataset of findings and module manufacturers
  • Utilize features such as file storage and sharing at the PV system level to save critical documentation, such as warranty information
  • Seamlessly transition from EPC to O&M through the creation of a baseline commissioning assessment that can transfer to future asset management teams

We have taken a different approach to the industry’s adoption of aerial thermography because the software is a required component to scaling the solar industry to where it needs to be. We built our software to reduce bottlenecks, increase necessary collaboration, and provide required data products to improve industry-wide decision making. To learn more about Raptor Maps and our software and services, contact us.