Managing Solar Panel Maintenance Using Drones

The damaging effects of fossil fuels have sparked a global pivot and motivated many to turn to alternative power sources in the hope of a brighter future. Photovoltaic technology is an environmentally-friendly and sustainable innovation that’s evolving fast, changing the renewable energy sector. Photovoltaic panels use specific cells to convert solar energy into an electron transfer through the photovoltaic effect. 

The need to maintain solar farms and photovoltaic plants in a timely and cost-effective manner has emerged as a top priority. Assessments of solar panels are now supported by cutting-edge drone assessment equipment, thermal and visual aerial audits, infrared imaging from the air, etc. Large photovoltaic facilities have been shown to benefit greatly from drone surveys. Drone-powered systems have provided useful, reliable, and high-resolution data, enabling PV systems to increase the operational effectiveness of their systems. 


Market Potential  

The aggregate growth of solar systems worldwide from 1992 to 2021 has been astounding. They developed from a small market of applications to a major power component. Investments and R&D for these types of renewable energy sources are at an all-time high and are expected to keep rising. 

Companies can maintain the value of their assets and the energy output by using solar panel inspection drones in the renewable energy sector to quickly and accurately inspect solar panels. On-site UAV technology instantaneously produces accurate, cost-effective, and real-time inspection data. 


Manual vs. Drone Inspection  

Despite the increase in solar panel evaluations, various examinations are still done by hand utilizing thermal cameras. Because they can clearly identify any production flaws, cracks, broken parts, malfunctioning bypass diodes, or even momentary shadowing on solar panels, thermal cameras are widely used. Although portable monitoring is sufficient, the strategy can be more effective by encouraging drone technology for solar farm inspections. Users enjoy improved data quality, safety, and time efficiency when they rely on drone imaging. The reasons why drone-powered solutions are more trustworthy inspection techniques than traditional/handheld processes include the following: 


Increased efficiency  

Drones capture data nearly 50 times faster than comparable manual methods, which makes them very cost-effective. Solar panel inspection drones equipped with thermal and RGB sensors can efficiently cover more ground to detect flaws than traditional operations because solar farms are typically built on large sites. Companies can monitor solar plants with a holistic model due to thermal mapping and RGB sensors, which are impossible with manual mapping. 


Improved Quality & Volume of Data 

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are frequently used to support drone technology. Aerial assessments accurately complete jobs and avoid faults that human operations could miss. The procedure for gathering drone imagery can be repeated whenever necessary. Since drones can cover larger areas, cutting-edge technology enables massive amounts of data to be collected while preserving the data’s integrity. 


Avoiding Dangerous Working Hours 

Drone inspections provide a safer environment for surveying and monitoring solar farms. They avoid jeopardizing workers’ safety to carry out maintenance activities.  


Store, Track & Distribute Data 

Drone data can be saved on secure portals for future use and prompt reporting. The data can then be accessed through various devices for additional interpretation when needed. The data can also be used to identify trends for more thorough future decision-making.  


Drone Inspection Techniques  

Drones can be seen as a logical fit for photovoltaic power examinations when considering the potential of UAVs and the drawbacks of conventional inspection methods. The use of drone technology in the renewable energy sector has grown quickly. Drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras collect precise thermal imaging and geospatial metadata. Functional airborne infrared imaging will overtake conventional visual and thermal examination. 

Several requirements regarding the specs of cameras, sensors, and other components must be met for drone-powered solar photovoltaic technologies to be useful. For instance, if conditions for RGB imaging are satisfied, such as taking aerial photographs vertically with a tilt that was optionally less than 3°, this results in relevant data. Strong winds and other unfavorable circumstances can seriously impair stability and solar ray reflections, changing the quality of RGB examinations. 

For thermal inspections, it’s recommended to use a thermal camera with sensitivity in the 8–14 m band and preferred thermal sensitivity below 0.08 K to detect minute temperature fluctuations, adequate photo voltaic irradiation level for a suitable thermal comparison (between 500–700 W/m2), a viewing angle of 5–60 ° for the thermal camera’s positioning, and no airflows. It’s also advised to fly UAVs in the morning or late at night to avoid casting undesired shadows on the panel’s surface.

Using precise visual monitoring systems and RGB imaging allows users to effectively identify problems, including fractures, delaminations, soiling, discolorations, and even panel corrosion.

To read more about Skygrid’s efforts to dive deeper into solar panel maintenance using UAV drones, visit us here.