Drones, robots, and AI are changing the face of solar and wind farm inspections, literally


The use of robot and drone technology equipped with advanced sensors and camera imaging to inspect solar and wind farms is expected to increase in the coming years, according to a report by Frost & Sullivan. 

The expected growth is spurred in part by the lockdown and social distancing measures imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has created challenges in sending technicians into the field. What’s more, human inspections are more costly in terms of travel and can result in errors. It is not uncommon for human-captured imagery to be unclear, causing delays and difficulties in further diagnosis and damages analysis.

The report acknowledged that many solar and wind farms already are equipped with various IoT sensors that measure vibration, weather, and other operational factors. However, operators often prefer to have remote visual inspections.

In light of that, robots, drones, and other imaging technologies are taking over and offering augmented/virtual reality and machine learning. These devices use object-tracking and self-navigation tools that enable them to conduct inspections without the need for human intervention.  

(Read “Eyes in the sky: How solar plant owners can benefit from aerial inspection technologies.”)

A range both hardware and software is being deployed in this latest generation of solar and wind inspections. Here is how the report said they are currently being used: 

  • Drones quickly capture images from vantage points not easily reached by humans.
  • RGB/infrared cameras identify hotspots caused by failing diodes.
  • Artificial intelligence identifies potential problems found in captured data.
  • 5G supports the transfer of data, achieving the low-delay needed by this inspection tech.
  • Cloud computing is connected with all devices and stores the gathered data.
  • AR/VR (augmented reality and virtual reality) provide a virtual environment for technicians to visualize the equipment remotely.
  • Digital twins are exact representations of the physical system and are used for remote analysis.
  • Robots perform maintenance, remote inspection, and troubleshooting.

The report recommended that market players develop digital platforms that combine software and hardware applications to utilize field operations and inspection data for a comprehensive inspection. R&D partnerships can be made to accelerate product development and improve competitive advantage.

Frost & Sullivan also said it is advantageous to use mobility solutions that can be deployed anywhere, anytime, to save travel costs and improve operational performance. 

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