October 22, 2021

The artificial intelligence behind solar power inspection

Discovered by Edmond Becquerel in 1839, the science of generating electricity through solar panels is an outcome of the photovoltaic effect. After conducting several research and experiments, Bell Labs developed the first-ever silicon photovoltaic cell in 1954. The photovoltaic systems produce electric power by utilizing solar cells for transmuting the Sun’s energy into a flow of electrons using the photovoltaic effect.

Since the Sun consistently shines on the Earth’s surface, solar energy is a clean, fairly inexpensive and renewable source of power. Radiation from the Sun has tremendous potential in terms of energy output. The exponential growth of the solar industry requires proportional ongoing maintenance and malfunction detection surges. Unavoidable circumstances such as weather cycles and UV exposure tend to degrade the performance of solar panels quite often. This frequent breakdown requires efficient, safe and economical ways to detect solar panel faults. This is where AI-powered drones for solar inspection come into the picture.

Here are some of the common solar panel defects:

Cell mismatch defect

Certain solar cells have identical properties which undergo different conditions from one another. Due to this similarity, cell mismatch defects occur in the solar cells when the electrical parameters of one cell are substantially altered from those of the other devices. Multiple photovoltaic cells work together to maximize the energy output. Even the tiniest cell deficiency can considerably impact the yield of the entire solar panel. Faulty bypass diodes resulting from cell mismatches can provoke browning, burns and even a fire in the solar panel.


Often a result of mechanical forces and thermal stress, micro-cracks in the solar panels frequently hinder moisture impermeability. Such tiny fractures are most likely to occur during the lamination process of the panel and are invisible to the naked eye. These micro-cracks obstruct the electron flow in the solar panel; as a result of which the solar cells become inactive and the energy output is reduced.


Acetic acid formation and constant exposure to sunlight are the most common reasons behind solar panels getting discolored. As a result, an evolved state of solar panel discoloration leads to reduced performance and power loss. The Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) in the solar panel experiences chemical reactions that produce acetic acid. The UV absorber breaks down, resulting in increased gel content.  The use of low-quality polymers for cell assembly can also diminish the amount of sunlight entering the photovoltaic cells, leading to significant power loss.

Here are some of the inspection techniques:

Visual inspection

Experts use this technique at the initial stage of inspection to ensure the proper functionality of the photovoltaic cells. Defects like soiling, discolorations, cracks and snail trails can be easily detected by the visual inspection method.


The Sun’s energy is converted into electron flow through the generation of electric power using solar cells. After being stimulated, photovoltaic systems transmit photons because of the electroluminescence principle. Direct current is used on the modules to map photo-emissions with an infrared camera. Even though this inspection method has its set of advantages, inspections can’t be conducted while solar panels are operating. This method demands large volumes of power supply but yields only a qualitative diagnosis.

Infrared thermography

In this inspection method, thermal cameras seize the radiation. This radiation is then converted into electrical signals to produce thermograms. The thermal cameras bear the incident IR radiation detector and photonic/quantum detector. Unlike quantum detectors, the incident IR radiation detector allies with the panel material at a molecular level. Thermal sensors (such as microbolometers) of the photovoltaic systems are used very frequently in the process.

Drone inspection

With the rise of solar panel inspections, thermal cameras explicitly aid with the recognition of defects, faulty components, cracks and shadowing panels. Drone imagery is a reliable technique that captures an enhanced quality of data, time efficiency and safety. Drone-powered solutions have the following advantages over manual/handheld inspection methods.

Increased efficiency

Technological advancements have introduced the world to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Acquiring data almost 50 times quicker than manual processes, UAVs are fairly inexpensive. Modern-day drones are furnished with thermal sensors that cover more area of land to recognize more defects than manual procedures. During solar panel inspection, thermal mapping presents a comprehensive outlook for businesses that manual inspection methods don’t offer.

  1. Enhanced quality and volume of data

Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) have backed drone technology to conduct efficient aerial inspections. AI-powered drones can find defects that manual techniques might miss out upon. With AI technology, drone imagery collection methods can be replicated every single time. Drones cover huge expanses. AI-powered advanced technology enables an increased amount of data collection while maintaining its essence.

  1. Reduced costs

Drone solar panel inspection involves various types of costs such as inspection costs, equipment costs and maintenance costs. The productivity and energy output of solar panels can be conserved and defects more easily identified with the use of thermal mapping.

  1. Averting odd working hours

The AI-powered UAV drone technology automates the surveying and monitoring of solar panels. Since the entire process is automated, maintenance operations don’t impede worker safety. Workers aren’t required to physically be present at solar farms to monitor the entire inspection process; drones ease out the operations for them.

Phases of AI-powered drone inspections

  • Drones fly over solar farms for collecting thermal images and geospatial metadata
  • The captured thermal images are analyzed to locate defects
  • Actionable reports are generated based on inspection

Drone-driven solutions for photovoltaic systems consider several conditions. From the specifications of cameras to that of sensors and other elements, drones capture apt aerial images to yield more meaningful data. The rapidly emerging drone technology is a revolution in the renewable energy industry.

Our drones use state-of-the-art technology to pace up the accuracy and efficiency of the AI-powered solar panel inspection process. Ranging from disconnected panels to thermal hotspots and diode failures, our drone technology identifies defects precisely and fine-tunes them to ensure maximum veracity. Gear up your enterprise with the best-in-class aerial insight through automated drones at Skylark Drones.

Skylark Drones