A German commercial drone service is fanning a gale-force gust in unmanned inspections after partnering with one of the nation’s largest wind-power companies.
Lufthansa Aerial Services announced an agreement with the Nordex Group last week to deploy drone inspection services for several Nordex wind turbines. Drones equipped with powerful sensor arrays will collect and transmit data on rotor blade conditions for expert analysis. The blades must be inspected on a regular basis to locate and fix wear and tear due to weather-borne erosion.
“On the basis of the large quantity of very precise data that LAS will provide us with on the regular inspection flights, we will be able to make detailed analyses as well as optimize our turbines and our service,” Nordex global-service head Bo Moerup said in a press release. “This will bring us even closer to our target of a lower cost of energy.”
“The market potential for commercial drone use in the wind energy sector is growing rapidly,” Lufthansa managing director Andreas Jahnke said. “Apart from the close-up inspection of rotor blades, monitoring the progress of the construction of new wind farms is another area of application.”
According to a recent report by consulting firm PwC, “a standard wind turbine inspection currently costs around $1,500 per tower; performing the same inspection using a drone cuts the cost by around 50 percent.”
The strategic partnership is not Lufthansa’s first foray into drone technology. Last year, the group’s air carrier division announced plans to integrate drone use into its business model. CEO Carsten Spohr said the carrier may delve into drone pilot training and UAV maintenance as new market opportunities.
The carrier’s technical services division Lufthansa Technik is also testing mobile robotic drone crawlers to inspect aircraft for potential fuselage damage.
Global investment in wind energy rose to $99.5 billion in 2014, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. The U.S. Department of Energy predicts: “Wind capacity, which grew by 8.1 percent in 2014, is forecast to increase by 13.0 percent in 2015 and by another 11 percent in 2016.”