March 18, 2019
How drone solutions are powering the future of solar energy.
We explore how resources such as solar energy can benefit from the technology of the future, specifically drone based solutions and how each stage of setting up solar power stations can use drone solutions, but first, a brief history lesson.
THE RICH HISTORY OF RESOURCES
An interesting pattern develops between resources and the world’s largest companies over the course of history. Every time a new and valuable resource is discovered, services and products are built to monetize and capitalize on this resource. The jeans you are wearing probably owes its origins to the California Gold Rush of the 1850s’, companies such as Google and Facebook built their empires as data became the new driving resource of the 21st century, and this is not just confined to purely digital entities. Companies like Toyota and Cargill are in on it too. And this brings us to the most lucrative resource in human history, the non-renewable kings, *drum [pun intended] roll*, oil and coal. 8 out of the 10 largest companies in the world by revenue owe their riches to either building services or products that make use of non-renewable resources.
However, as with every story there has to be an end and in this particular case, either our dependence on non-renewable sources has to end or ourselves. Non-renewable resources are reaching a critical point of usage wherein we will have to switch to more viable sources of energy. Continued dependence on these resources, basically means investing in ‘our own doom’. Their consumption has wreaked havoc on the climate, instigated wars, produced enormous amounts of waste, pollution and impacted health, in short, oil and coal are becoming an expensive asset for the whole of humanity.
So, what happens when one kind of asset becomes too risky to maintain? We diversify.
HOPE IS ON THE HORIZON
To put it mildly, the time for renewable resources to become a major contributor to the energy needs around the world is nigh. With the growth in population and GDP driven consumption, the world is bracing up to face a challenging energy mix. Hoping to create an equitable balance between development and environment and ensuring that everyone has access to enough sustainable energy rests in resources such as solar, hydro, wind and geothermal. To be honest, they have a lot going for them like the fact that they never run out, cause lesser deaths, require little maintenance and are steadily becoming cheaper.
In particular solar energy along with wind has emerged to be the darling of environmentalists and new age economists around the world. Remember when we told that new resources spurn new industries? Well, it looks like humanity has taken a “leaf” out of the nature’s playbook and turned to the Sun as the new resource to shed light on the path to the future and cheaper energy around the world.
DRONE BASED SOLUTIONS & THE FUTURE OF SOLAR
As with emerging resources one of the key driving factors for their adoption is the decline in cost of capital that goes into monetizing these resources, the whole purpose of this blog is to enlighten the reader on how drone solutions can serve as a driving factor to making the planning, building and sustenance of solar energy more profitable and efficient. Solar energy is captured in many forms, primarily it is captured in two ways, utility grade plants and rooftop. We want to focus this blog exclusively on utility grade plants, why you may ask? Please see below.
As a drone solution provider in one of the fastest growing energy consumers in the world, we naturally gravitate towards building solutions for large scale plants, also, there is another crucial factor at play here. With the release of the Digital Sky regulations, aspects of secure scalability such as integrating drone registrations and flight operations management, drones are going to play a significant part of the civilian and commercialization industry.
Drones are beginning to make a huge difference in the planning, construction, and operational phases. So how do drone solutions make solar energy more viable? We start from the ground up.
DRONE SOLUTIONS FOR FASTER PLANNING
A year of strong growth is predicted for 2018 with new installations expected to surpass the 100 GW mark for the first time, representing 6 percent annual growth, with an increase of about 15% to ~113 GW, up from 98.9 GW in 2017. India’s total capacity in particular is expected to grow from 9.5 GW in 2016 to 76 GW by 2021, which means it will be installing 66 GW from 2017–2021, or more than 13 GW annually, on average, using the standard thumb rule of 5 acres needed for every 1 MW of solar energy means about 65000 acres of solar panels to be set up every year. That requires quite a bit of planning and surveying.
To gather topographical information for a prospective site of a future solar farm, you traditionally have two options: rely on publicly available data (like Google Maps) or conduct new ground surveys, neither of which is ideal for large-scale projects like solar farms. In solar farm prospecting, it’s challenging to generate purchase bids quickly. By surveying land and creating contour maps and digital terrain models with drone solution, this process can be cut down to a few days. The result: faster turnaround times and a leg up on competition.
Drones can also reduce the design cycle of solar energy projects by as much as 70%, and increase team productivity along the way.
Drone solutions help field engineers visualize their project in a paradigm shifting manner. These detailed orthomosaics and digital twins take into account factors that a human engineer might not have access to before, such as hydrology and shadow analysis, accurate material quantity estimates, manpower needs, and safety assessments, all of which contribute massively to the overall project plan. These solutions enable engineers to design and implement a project 90% faster too!
DRONE SOLUTIONS FOR BETTER CONSTRUCTION MONITORING
Once a suitable project site has been selected and the project is being constructed, drones can be the “eyes” of project managers on-site, saving plenty of time and money on transportation. Project visits in person can become much less frequent, and if a project manager wants to “visit” the project it is as simple as logging in remotely to one of the web based portals to take a tour or generate reports on construction completion rates and project how long before the plant starts to generate power.
There are two critical ways drones are lowering worker and business risk by improving operational efficiency for solar energy companies.
Drone solutions can “elevate” construction site monitoring and reporting (counting number of rigs, modules mounted etc) to the point of being able to remotely verify if each individual installation is complete, safe, aesthetically acceptable and all components of the installation are robust and permanent.
Digitized assets through drone solution also mean that if the planned layout and setup of solar panels are in line with as-built conditions, these kind of insights allow EPC stakeholders to conduct, complete and generate acceptance documentation.
DRONE SOLUTIONS FOR ENSURING PERFORMANCE
With an exponential level of growth, current methods of operation and maintenance are simply not sustainable nor is it economically feasible to deploy poorly trained manpower. Two field engineers spending 30 days, doing handheld IR analysis, spot checks and IV curves on a 100 MW plant just doesn’t make sense. Imagine if you could lift these sensors above the ground and do the same site in 24 man-hours, and discover up to 3,500 anomalies in 423,000 solar panels, now that makes a whole lot of sense.
The use of drone solutions can prevent and pre-emptively predict the spread of degradation of solar panels and determine which panels need cleaning or repair. Drone solutions that detect hotspots and drop in energy outputs are able not only to increase the PV plant efficiency but also reduce the cost of its maintenance since they practically require any human participation in work. Drone solutions in this way help teams pinpoint problem areas and fast-track repairs to keep solar operation running at peak efficiency and reduce the number of manpower per MW needed for the upkeep in performance.
FUTURE OF DRONES — BEYOND THE HORIZON
Drone solutions have unimaginable possibilities to revolutionize energy industries by automating the way we plan, build and maintain sustainable energy sources, and completing tasks faster, cheaper, and more safely than humans ever could, or even performing functions that could never have been dreamed of in the first place without drone technology.
Solar energy’s overall share of global power generation remains low, but is about to witness a major increase with the onset of drones into the sector. With technologies like thermal imagery and 3D modelling, drone solutions are set to cause a major paradigm shift as a growing number of companies are accommodating drone based outputs into their workflows, as the world shifts to new resources and companies are built to harness the resources so will solutions that enable this shift, stay tuned to understand in even more depth how drone solutions can be used in each stage of the project lifecycle.
Drone solutions for large scale solar projects allow us to decrease lifecycle costs and increase capacity utilisation in a manner we have never seen before.
Tejus AV, Head-Solar Energy Business, CleanMax Solar
If you are interested to know more about how we provide the solutions listed above, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or just visit our website and in particular the solar section!
Note: An edited version of the article was first published on Solar Magazine as “How Drone Solutions Are Powering the Future of Solar Energy”