Data collected using drones is proving to be invaluable for terrain mapping, progress and quality monitoring during construction, and thermal defect detection

Drones are now increasingly being used at solar PV sites, for both grounds mount as well as rooftop solar plants. Data collected using drones adds value across the lifecycle of a solar plant – development and design, construction, and operations and maintenance. This blog summarizes the top 10 use cases for drone data that provide maximum bang for the buck towards improving solar asset returns.

  1. Map terrain characteristics at high resolution for the proposed solar site: Drones enable mapping of terrain characteristics at high resolution. For example, a single drone can map over 400 hectares in a day, obtaining X, Y, Z coordinates at a resolution of over 5 Million data points per hectare.
  1. Track and measure construction progress: Drone scans combined with smart AI-enabled image processing allows extraction of key progress parameters such as holes augured, posts installed, modules installed etc, while enabling high-resolution visualization of site status.
  1. Monitor inventory on solar construction sites: Using drone images and AI-enabled object detection algorithms, it is possible to keep track of inventory in the inventory yard, and movement of inventory for staging across the entire site.
  1. Detect physical damage, install quality, and installation errors at commissioning: Key quality parameters such as post alignment, table alignment, table ground clearances, trench depths can be extracted by processing and analysing drone data.
  1. Create as-built reference of the plant post-commissioning: Once a newly built plant is interconnected and starts generating, drone data can generate a high-resolution as-built reference for the plant, which serves as a benchmark for Operations & Maintenance teams across the plant lifecycle. This is also valuable from a lenders and investors diligence point of view.
  1. Improve generation through module-level hotspot monitoring: A single drone with a thermal camera can image 100% of the solar panels for up to 40 MWs per day. Detecting, locating and rectifying these hotspots helps improve generation over the short as well as long term.
  1. Inspect physical damage, cleanliness and vegetation growth: In operating plants, drone scans can effectively help identify panel damage, dirty panels and vegetation growth across the plant site.
  1. Assess flooding risk for operating plants: Data from high-resolution drone scans of operating plants can be processed and analyzed to extract exact levels efficiently. This level of data can be used for a detailed hydrology assessment to evaluate water accumulation and flooding risk at the site.
  1. Monitor health of Interconnection line: Regular drone-based visual and thermal imaging of interconnection lines helps identify insulator damage, high-temperature spots, and risk of arcing. Drones make it easy and convenient to conduct scans across many km of interconnection lines.
  1. Conduct quick diligence of solar plants: For potential buyers of Solar PV assets, a visual and thermal scan of the target asset, provides an excellent insight into how well the plant has been maintained. These scans are also quick – visual scans of upto 200 MWs per day and thermal scans upto 40 MWs per day are feasible with a single high quality drone kit.

With so many valuable uses for drones in Solar PV, we believe it is worthwhile to budget for a visual and thermal drone kit as part of the Construction and Operations & Maintenance Toolkits to ensure drones are available as and when required. For those who do not wish to create in-house drone programs, there are many certified and proficient drone service providers in almost every country who can provide a full turnkey service from data collection to processing and reporting.

At SenseHawk, we have supported our customers with requirements across all 10 use cases mentioned above. Do you have a requirement that fits into the 10 scenarios mentioned above? We would love to hear from you.

Please contact us so we can assess your requirement and provide the best possible solution.

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