July 11, 2019

How Sprng Energy is leveraging drone solutions to climate-proof solar energy

We work with Sprng Energy to bring the advantages of drone based hydrology solutions that climate proof their most valuable solar assets.

How Sprng Energy is leveraging drone solutions to climate-proof solar energy

Drone solutions and solar energy

Beyond the well-known industries of mining, aggregates, waste management, and construction, there are a number of other modern day work sites that can benefit from aerial perspectives drone solutions have to offer—one of which is the modern day solar farm. The rapid pace of investment in renewable energy has propelled solar energy to the forefront. Coincidentally perhaps the benefits solar energy has to gain from drone solutions has also grown over the past decade.

Sprng Energy is one of those players spearheading the solar movement in India. A renewable energy platform with a total commitment of US$475mn, Sprng is on track to set up a 2000 MW of renewable energy capacity by 2020. They currently have 1741.5MW contracted capacity with 444 MW (AC) solar projects under operation and 500MW (AC) solar projects and 797.5 MW of wind power projects under execution in the country. Given the size and scope of their projects, Sprng Energy is always on the lookout to leverage technology to deliver on quality and timelines and that is how they found drones and more importantly us, as solution partners.

This is the story of the convergence of two technologies of the future finding an innovative solution for an age old challenge.


The Challenge: Making solar assets climate resilient

The scale and location of solar projects entail that they are often located in the agricultural belts of India. Over the years of cultivation and irrigation, agricultural fields have become terraformed to facilitate the flow of monsoon rain into the fields, however, as the crops are replaced with solar panels, the monsoon becomes a source of concern for the millions of dollars that have been invested on the ground. It is telling that some of India's biggest solar farms have succumbed to the monsoon onslaught.

So, what is the scientific defence against the monsoon or any climate event?

Enter hydrology.

Hydrology is the scientific study of the movement, distribution, and quality of water on Earth and other planets, including the water cycle, water resources and environmental watershed sustainability.

Hydrology finds its greatest application in the design and operation of engineering projects, such as those for irrigation, water supply, flood control, water power and navigation. Hydrology analysis provides a useful method to extract the flow of direction and accumulation of water and allows stakeholders to understand critical engineering aspects such as the flow, stagnations, entry and exit points in a given area. The final output from this process is of course a "hydrologic model".

A hydrologic model is a simplification of a real-world system that aids in understanding, predicting, and managing water resources. Obtaining accurate hydrological conditions is critical for the success of the model and in turn the long term sustainability of the plant. As always, the source of data matters before the results can be relied on.

A quick analysis of key factors that contribute to reliable data sources reveal drones and drone data to be the preferred choice to perform hydrology studies for solar projects.

Four factors for data sources to be viable.
How different data sources compare
Unlike traditional methods which use satellite data sets or Total Station data that are not granular enough or outdated, drone data offers the perfect compromise between scale and fidelity.

The Answer: Engineering drone data into a solution

It was because of the factors outlined above that Sprng Energy partnered with Skylark Drones to conduct a contour & hydrology study for one of their solar farms in Andhra Pradesh.

This project aimed to provide Spring Energy with drone based solutions to identify entry/exit points, flow rates and areas of stagnation.

Their current method of monitoring the construction process and delivering hydrology information involved data obtained from satellite images which offered poor resolution with respect to the ground area covered. The information produced was therefore capricious and did not reflect ground reality or provide reliable information about the topography.

Conventional hydrological analysis is done using terrain data from topographical sheets or satellite data which have a coarse resolution and are outdated. Whereas, a drone has the ability to get real time terrain data at a very high resolution.

-Rahul Ramteke, General Manager, Sprng Energy

Moreover, the area of interest often needed to be large, spanning across several hundred kilometers in order to obtain comparatively reliable satellite data. This was a huge disadvantage for enterprises that wished to map patterns in and around smaller areas.


The Process

The hydrology analysis for the areas of interest was done using a Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model.

The model includes data modeled on variables such as weather, surface runoff, return flow, percolation, evapotranspiration, transmission losses, pond and reservoir storage, crop growth and irrigation, groundwater flow, reach routing, nutrient and pesticide loading, and water transfer.

The elements drone based inputs that were mainly highly contextual data such as land use-land cover, the crop growth and topography was incorporated into the model to generate a report that could be used solar engineering teams at Spring. The engineers at Sprng then incorporated this into their plant design.

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The Impact

In the end drone based solutions offered the flexibility and scalability advantages that proved to make sound financial sense in terms of reduced time and labor spent collecting quality data. Significant cost savings were made by being able to provide highly accurate data at a fraction of the cost compared to satellite data.

The overall benefits of using drone solutions

Going forward

The impact of the solution was something that resolved the commitment of Skylark Drones and Sprng Energy to continually explore the applications of drone solutions.

We are extremely happy to have been associated with Skylark for this study and have received  highly professional service. The Skylark team was competent enough to respond to any query raised by us during the tenure of project. We wish them the very best and look forward to working with them in future projects.

-Rahul Ramteke, General Manager, Sprng Energy

Possible collaborations include implementing the mapping and modeling capabilities to digitize records and to help in better planning and allocation of future resources.

If you are interested to know more about how we provide the solutions listed above, get in touch with us at info@skylarkdrones.com or just visit our website and in particular the solar section!

If you wish to understand how drones are making their mark in the solar industry, read our blog post "How drone solutions are powering the future of solar energy."