Drones for photovoltaic solar panel inspection

Monitoring and inspecting photovoltaic (PV) solar farms is an essential task that allows efficient operation and maintenance. An active control and regular maintenance will increase the performance of the production of the photovoltaic (PV) solar farm and help to achieve better profits from the investments made.

The monitoring process for photovoltaic (PV) panels is usually carried out by human manual inspections, but because of the technological developments, they have been replaced by intelligent systems using monitored control and monitoring systems, surveillance cameras, robots and drones.

Drones have become the most suitable in the photovoltaic (PV) industry due to the wide range of remote inspecting and surveillance capabilities (with RGB & IR cameras), but also to its efficient data recording and easy control at a central level.

Every photovoltaic system faces issues with insufficient performance, system component failures and performance influence by meteorological conditions. These problems reduce the energy efficiency of the photovoltaic (PV) solar farm causing energy losses. Therefore, we need to address the problems of photovoltaic (PV) solar farms and find a unique solution rather than multiple solutions.

Photovoltaic PV solar panels
Photovoltaic solar farm

Who conducts inspections for photovoltaic panels/solar panels?

Skyline Drones is a drone service provider (DSP) from Romania, which includes photovoltaic (PV) solar farms inspections among its wide range of drone inspections it offers. With certified and experienced pilots, Skyline Drones can carry out inspections in difficult and hard to reach areas, or in areas where an inspection could take days or even weeks, in a much shorter time.

In recent years, drones have developed their services in the solar industry, focusing on monitoring and surveillance needs. Drones are able to monitor large-scale photovoltaic power plants in a much shorter time compared to manual inspection or other remote monitoring methods.

Drones are capable of capturing visual and thermal imaging at a very high resolution, with the ability to see photovoltaic modules and other components of the photovoltaic installation.

When the drone flies over a location, it can identify potential problems with solar panels and their components.

From these images, analysts can interpret the condition of the photovoltaic (PV) solar farm. Thanks to drone technology, the monitoring process is more intelligent and accessible by offering a wide range of services that could benefit for the solar industry owners.

Drones are enabling technicians to identify problems that can arise in a much shorter time.

What drone services can you benefit from in a photovoltaic plant?

The services provided by the intelligent drone systems in photovoltaic (PV) solar farms are given as follows:

  • Allows on-site asset security through visual monitoring

  • Thermal image to identify faults in the PV module or array

  • Information on dust accumulation

  • Monitoring of possible shadows on the photovoltaic array

  • Enabling and optimizing inspection reliability

  • Lesser time-consuming monitoring facility

  • Continuous monitoring during the construction phase

  • Can quickly detect the threats of equipment theft enabling safety

The benefits offered by intelligent drone systems in photovoltaic (PV) solar farms are given as follows

  • Improved operation and maintenance of the photovoltaic (PV) plant

  • Time-saving during the inspection visits

  • Increased energy productivity

  • Accuracy in finding the faults

  • Aims to boost investment returns

  • Increases inspection performance

  • Wide integration and multi-tasking ability

  • Long-term data maintenance

Comparison of monitoring skills between ground inspections and drone inspections:

Ground inspection vs. Drone Inspection
Thermal Image of photovoltaic panels

Facts and figures

Based on various data collected from different sources the following general facts & figures are representative of photovoltaic (PV) inspections with drones:

  • The average ROI per MW can reach 2250$

  • Project revenues increased by 2% above the set baseline

  • Inspection costs can be reduced by over 50% and can reach even 90%

  • Drone inspections can find 10 times more issues than ground inspections

  • Inspection time is reduced by 90%

  • IV Curve tracing needs are reduced by 90%

  • Reduce transit time by over 10% for O&M

Photovoltaic solar farm case-study & conclusion

A drone service provider from USA conducted a study to compare the time, costs, and results of its thermal drone inspections to relevant manual inspection scenarios across four sites.

Comparing drone inspection time to relevant manual inspections across the 4 sites from the USA, an increase in inspection efficiency of 97% resulted:

  • SITE 1: 100% IR drone inspection for maintenance of 74MW

  • SITE 2: 100% IR drone inspection for maintenance of 30MW

  • SITE 3: 100% IR drone inspection for commissioning of 21MW

  • SITE 4: 100% IR drone inspection for commissioning of 12.5 MW

In this case, on a per MW basis, cost savings due to efficiency gains ranged from $1074 to $1717 per MW, for an average of $1254/MW cost savings.

Depending on the size of the photovoltaic (PV) solar farm, the ground inspection process of the photovoltaic panels, modules or cells, may be difficult to monitor, consumer of time and resources compared to inspections carried out using drones.