Drones for solar farm inspections
Solar energy has been recognised as a valuable renewable resource that can meet the ever-increasing energy demands of the world. However, the efficiency and reliability of solar farms are highly dependent on the maintenance and upkeep of their solar panels. With repeated exposure to the elements, solar panels degrade over time, develop faults, and break down. This leads to lower plant production, reduced efficiency, and increased cost of operations— ultimately resulting in more expensive solar power. With traditional inspection methods being slow, laborious, and expensive maintenance and operations teams find it challenging to effectively manage solar farms. To combat these issues, organisations are turning to technology, and the go-to solution being Drones & AI.Discover how drones and AI enhance solar farm efficiency, featuring Abu Dhabi's Al Dhafra Project targeting the world's lowest solar tariff.

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In 2020, Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (TAQA) announced the 2GW Al Dhafra Solar Project. Located in the Al Dhafra region in Abu Dhabi once complete, the plant is set to produce solar energy with the lowest tariff in the world- estimated to cost AED 4.85 fils/kWh. The race is set, and the ever-moving finish line is more affordable solar power.

Challenges of traditional inspection methods:

The traditional method of inspecting solar panels involves handheld thermal imagers and manual tracking of faulty panels. This method is inefficient, time-consuming, and adds to the maintenance and operations teams’ workload. An inspector can only inspect about 60 panels per day using this method, making it almost impossible to cover large solar farms adequately. To solve this problem, organisations either have to increase their workforce, which leads to higher costs, or compromise on the inspection quality, which can lead to significant performance issues in the long run.

Drones for solar inspection:

Drone Inspections at Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park
Drone Inspections at Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park

Drones offer a scalable, efficient, and cost-effective solution for solar panel inspection. In the solar inspection operations done by FEDS Drone-powered Solutions, they averaged 740 panels inspected daily using just one drone, increasing efficiency by approximately 1,130 %. This is a significant improvement compared to the traditional method of inspection. Drones can cover more ground in less time, making inspections more accessible and cheaper.

AI for data processing:

After data collection, the next challenge is sifting through mountains of photos and data to flag discrepancies. The traditional method of manual data processing is extremely slow and ineffective, which causes a bottleneck in the workflow. Which is when AI is introduced to the mix. AI is being used to automate hotspot detection and flagging of anomalies in the captured data. Depending on the data size, the AI detector takes anywhere from a few hours to a few days to compile a report. With AI, organisations are processing the large amounts of drone data quickly to generate actionable reports leading to more informed decisions.

Sample Report, NB: The figures on the screengrabs have been altered to protect the anonymity of the data.
Sample Report, NB: The figures on the screengrabs have been altered to protect the anonymity of the data.

Scalability and cost reduction:

One of the significant advantages of using drones and AI for solar farm inspections is the scalability and cost-reduction benefits. FEDS, a drone service provider based in Dubai reports that a single drone team (one pilot and one spotter) can inspect about 740 panels in a day. To scale this up, you can add more drones, making it easier to cover more ground in less time. By automating routine inspections, organisations are reporting significant reductions in maintenance costs.The lowered cost makes them more available to companies and individuals and increases the demand for solar energy.

A combination of Drones and AI offers a scalable solution to solar farm inspections, making it easier for organisations to cover more ground in less time. And this reduction in costs directly impacts the accessibility of solar power, allowing organisations to meet the rise in demand for sustainable or green energy.

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