A gift from above: UAVs for solar farm quality control

BQ Energy has adopted Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) as monitoring tools for their solar farm projects.

The ‘DJI Phantom 2’ UAVs are fitted with a ‘GoPro HERO3’ camera, allowing users to capture high-definition aerial views of solar installations at any stage of their construction. The replaceable 11V, 5.2Ah battery allows for up to 25 minutes of flight time for a maximum take-off weight of 1.3 kilograms. The system is manoeuvred using a dedicated controller and visualised though an iPad interface.

UAV for solar farm quality assurance

Image Credit: DJI

At a price of less than US$1,000 for a kit which includes a GoPro camera, it is much more affordable than one would expect for such high-tech equipment.

The Phantom 2 provides unique aerial views – perspectives which cannot be replicated from the ground. In addition, the data captured by the Phantom 2 may be accessed remotely which reduces the need to send staff onsite, saving time and money.

BQ Energy is primarily using the UAVs to monitor and ensure proper alignment of their large scale solar racking systems. However, the possibilities for UAVs and PV stretch for beyond that.

Some advanced DJI models are fitted with more sophisticated camera equipment. It may be possible to instead attach a thermal imaging camera – particularly useful for solar farm developers – allowing them to identify hot-spots and defective cells within particular modules before they become a bigger and more expensive problem.

Other renewable energy industries – or any application working at heights – can also benefit from these UAVs. They may also be used to monitor and observe wind turbines, structures which reach heights in the range of 100–150m. By replacing harnessed crews with UAVs, both costs and OH&S risks are minimised.

The information gathered by these UAVs could very likely save thousands of dollars down the line for PV developers, already justifying the initial investment. And although the devices are only just breaking into the PV arena, they could become a standard tool for future developers.

© 2014 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

John Rodriguez

John regularly contributes original technology articles to Solar Choice News. He is a PhD candidate in solar PV engineering at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), having graduated with First Class Honours in a Bachelor of Engineering (UNSW, specialising in PV). His knowledge of and passion for renewables technology led to him receiving the federally-funded Australian Postgraduate Award and Engineering Research Award for research excellence, in addition to being a Co-operative Program scholar during his undergraduate studies. John also works as an energy efficiency and process engineer and analyst.
John Rodriguez