Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Power Plants Being Inspected By Drones

For more than two decades, the heads of the world’s largest economies have met for the G20 Summit. Topics discussed include global issues surrounding financial stability, health and education, and more. In recent years, one of the most prominent topics of discussion at the G20 Summit has been the impending climate change crisis facing the world. The leaders attending the G20 Summit agree that climate change mitigation to stop and reverse global warming is of utmost importance.

The use of fossil fuels contributes to 89% of carbon dioxide emissions and 68% of greenhouse gas emissions. The goal of many attending the G20 Summit is to develop sustainable ways of replacing fossil fuel use with clean energy sources. At the October 2021 G20 Summit held in Rome, President Biden shared how part of his clean energy plan would include an increase in wind power plants. But perhaps the clean energy resource people are most familiar with is solar photovoltaic (PV) power.

PV power stations are far more advanced than solar panels, which convert the heat of the sun into power. A PV power grid will also convert UV rays into power, making it a stronger, more sustainable clean power source. It has become quite common to drive around and see homes and buildings with PV panels on the rooftops, as well as large PV power fields. But, as with any power grid, PV fields need to be monitored and inspected routinely. These inspections ensure that the power grid is working reliably, efficiently, and cost effectively.

In April of 2021, a team of researchers working on behalf of the Australian PV Institute (APVI) published a paper titled Qualification of Photovoltaic (PV) Power Plants using Mobile Test Equipment, in which they extol the benefits of using drone technology to maintain PV power plants. “In Australia,” the paper states, “drones play an important part in identifying under-performing power plants.” The paper goes on to give an example of how the APVI contracted the UK based drone company, Above, to monitor and inspect more than 370,000 solar panels spread out across 33 sites. The drones are equipped with infrared systems that provide PV power plant managers a clear view of the many acres of panels they maintain.

Once the drones have collected the images of the PV grid, the data is stored. Subsequent drone inspections are compared to all previous data for an in-depth picture of the plant’s performance. Making it even better is the improvement in drone technology that has seen higher capabilities arise while the cost of operations has declined. To have ground personnel go out and manually monitor the panels would take weeks at a time. “In practice,” the paper states, “a 100% technical inspection of a multi-megawatt PV power plant will not be feasible. But rapid advances in infrared (IR) inspection with drones make it possible to obtain an overall picture of the status of an operational PV array.” Using the combined technology of clean energy resources and drones is just one step in helping meet the goals set forth at the annual G20 Summit.

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