19 July 2022
Bill Rogerson By Bill Rogerson

Can Drones Map the Route to Net Zero?

Following the gradual introduction of industrial robots within the manufacturing industry, the renewable energy sector is ripe for automation. From roles that were impossible for humans to execute, such as nuclear waste disposal, to those facilitating human ability, such as welding cobots, or even the easing of everyday tasks, such as automotive for self-driving cars, it's clear these technologies are here to stay.

The renewable energy sector is not far behind in its use of drones and robots, or so it shouldn’t be. Solar and wind farms present plenty of opportunities for use of these innovative tools. Prime for use in detection of issues and optimisation of solutions, through this - improved efficiency, reduced overall cost, and less time required to carry out activities across solar and wind farms. 

The contribution of variable renewable electricity energy sources, such as PV and wind power, has resulted in rapid growth in the installed capacity of green sources of energy across the globe. In fact, these sources produce around 8.7% of global electricity as compared to 27.3% of all renewable energy sources. As a result, there is an urgent need to improve power system flexibility to ensure the ultimate efficiency of these systems. 

Drones are now being used in the energy sector for various applications in both the generation and distribution side and can be employed to assist a range of efficiencies, including roles such as: 

  • Power Plant Mapping and Inspection 

  • Corridor Mapping 

  • Corrosion Detection 

  • Substation Static Line Inspection 

  • Intermittent Power 

Drone Best Practice.

So, what solutions do drones truly bring? Not only can they play a major role in the initial planning of the site, providing aerial data and mapping information for the survey and layout creation, but they also help ensure the space is used as efficiently as possible, even with larger-scale sites. 

Alongside this, drone flight paths can be automated to ensure the full site is effectively surveyed without the worry of human error. This applies on a continuous basis once the site is up and running during regular inspections, which are carried out to ensure the site is in full working order and that each panel is operating efficiently. 

Thermal imaging cameras can be deployed using drones, to scan an aerial view of the panels and give the operator a visual of those which are not performing effectively. Once detected, engineers can be immediately instructed to those panels to fix outstanding issues, rather than checking every panel on a consistent basis in case of damage. 

Current Industry Challenges.

Wind and solar are the most popular forms of renewable energy due to rapid technological advancements and continuous reduction in production costs. However, whilst regular inspections of large infrastructure can significantly improve the early identification of damage, manual image inspection is tedious and therefore prone to error. Similarly, inaccuracy of data logged from PV systems leads to shortfalls in the benefits of using solar energy. 

By automating the detection of damages from drone inspection images, or at least automatically providing suggestions to experts on highly probable damage locations, the cost involved in employing engineers and automating the analysis of data is overall vastly decreased. The increased efficiency as a result of these minor alterations allows for an uninterrupted energy supply.  

Drone Roll-out.

It’s no secret that the implementation of new technologies is crucial to ensure the full effectiveness of drone technology. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) systems in solar energy will significantly reduce the cost of building and managing solar projects. Realtime monitoring and predictive analytics can also be used to monitor power plant efficiency and detect and prevent in unexpected breakdowns. As a result, these systems can cut costs related to inspection and repairs and improve efficiency as a result. 

The collection, storage, and analysis of high-definition pictures and videos have previously been a time-intensive task for humans, so the implementation of this technology creates a much more streamlined and accurate process. 

Changing the Game.

Who is fuelling the drone revolution? These are the guys worth keeping an eye on. 

Skyvisor 

A young, dynamic French company determined to push drone technology in every business to improve inspection processes, Skyvisor is certainly an innovator in the drone tech space. Offering drone-based autonomous industrial inspection tools for wind turbines and solar plants, it features AI-based data acquisition and processing to maximize assets’ performances. 

Its core aims are focused on the automatisation of asset inspections, digitalisation of assets, standardisation of collected images and implementation of AI systems to ensure effective defect detection across. This cutting-edge inspection technology allows for rapid testing, taking only 20 minutes to deploy the drone for full site analysis, and thorough analysis through a comprehensive online management platform suitable for wind and solar sites. 

Volateq 

This automated condition monitoring system aims to help CSP and PV plants in the solar field ultimately improve performance. Volateq uses its technology to create a Digital Twin of the site, enabling optimisation of performance through fully automated drone-based data acquisition. 

Volateq’s drone solutions promise a clear and concise image and status of the site in terms of optical performance, damages and soiling. They acquire data of your site whenever you want without being dependent on external experts and service providers, and achieve quicker measurements, using less labour and reducing costs through easy-to-use automated software.  

The impact generates actionable results to help optimise maintenance schedules, ultimately leading to higher profits, longer lifetime and increased safety. 

Heliolytics 

Born in 2014 in response to issues generated by the inaccuracy of data, Heliolytics recognised the requirement for optimisation of maintenance wherever possible. What began as an IR camera attached to a window washing pole on a pickup truck, has years later become one of the most advanced inspections and analytics packages for PV portfolios. 

Through strong partnerships with customers and a shared curiosity to empower a net-zero carbon society, Heliolytics strive to bring actionable insights into the future of sustainability-focused data analytics. 

What’s next?

There’s no denying the value of drone technology in the community space. Where integrating these systems may be a challenge, the benefits in cost saving and efficiency are next to non. I am really looking forward to seeing how drone technologies and AI systems continue to adapt to keep the renewables industry at the forefront of the net zero revolution. 

I'll certainly be keeping an eye on opportunities for emerging companies as this space continues to develop and technologies adapt. Want to discuss the future of renewable software and technology with me in some more detail? Let’s chat! 

Drop me a message at bill.rogerson@industrial-cm.com or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Want to collaborate with us?

Charlton Morris is a Talent Solutions business who offer search, contract, volume and employer branding solutions to the industrial markets.

Feature in articles, videos, podcasts and more.

Share
Back to the top
Bill Rogerson

Partnering with a range of candidates and clients within the digital energy market, Bill connects premium talent to fulfil the needs of organisations, from start-ups to multinational corporations. Diversity in his network across multiple technical disciplines compliments their detailed professional knowledge of the holistic digital energy industry delivers effective search processes.

Recommended.

In Conversation With Lumin: Smart Grids Leading The Way To Clean Energy.
01 August 2022
Alex Lyon By Alex Lyon

In Conversation With Lumin: Smart Grids Leading The Way To Clean Energy.

Smart grids are taking huge strides across the solar power industry. I spoke to Lumin CEO, Alex Bazhinov, to see what this might mean for the future of clean energy.

Are These Three Challenges Stifling the Solar Industry?
27 July 2022
Joss Mercer By Joss Mercer

Are These Three Challenges Stifling the Solar Industry?

Let’s explore the top 3 challenges facing the solar industry in 2022, and how we can adapt to thrive through them.

Can Drones Map the Route to Net Zero?
19 July 2022
Bill Rogerson By Bill Rogerson

Can Drones Map the Route to Net Zero?

The renewable energy sector isn't far behind the wider manufacturing industry when it comes to the introduction of drones and robots, but could these technologies be the answer to reaching net zero quicker than ever? Click to read more.

Get the latest into your inbox.