With the grim specter of peak oil looming on the horizon, energy companies worldwide are on the lookout for ways to cut costs and increase output.
In Europe, energy-sector experts see drone inspection as a valuable asset when it comes to doing more with less. At the recent European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition, experts extolled the virtue of drone inspections of solar farms.
“Application of the drone system to two large [solar systems] in Switzerland … [with] complex building and difficult topography, provided valuable experiences and evidenced economic benefit,” concluded a paper presented by researchers at the Bern University of Applied Sciences.
The research team tested a customized DJI S-1000+ octocopter – a model that can carry larger batteries required for solar inspections. Equipped with a GoPro camera and a German-made Optris infrared camera, the drone inspected two large solar arrays in Switzerland containing more than 11,000 solar modules.
The S-1000 quickly found several trouble spots: “The video of the IR Multicopter Drone allowed for a quick identification of defective modules on-site, which could immediately be replaced to avoid power loss,” the paper stated.
Another conference delegate, Spanish consulting firm Enertis, reports amazing success using drone inspections on their clients’ solar arrays.
“The work that you can do in two weeks with two people walking around a whole plant – for the same area of inspection, and getting just the image of that area – a drone can do in very few days, depending on the inspection requirements,” Enertis manager Álvaro Velasco said in an interview with Imaging and Machine Vision Europe magazine.
“The drone drastically reduces the time you have to spend on site, which is normally the most expensive part,” he added.
In France, drones equipped with thermal-imaging cameras inspect several miles of natural gas lines for Venissieux Energies. The unmanned aircraft look for cracks that can cause dangerous gas leaks as well as providing an overall view of the system for future pipeline improvements.
The surge in Euro-energy sector use of drone tech mirrors a growing interest by utilities worldwide including India, and in American states such as New Hampshire, California and New York.