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How Does Drone-Based Photovoltaic (PV) Technology System Maintenance Work?

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

One of the main sources of renewable energy is solar electricity. There is no questioning the great financial and environmental value of solar energy's return on investment. Solar panels of today are made to survive for decades, yet production efficiency and lifetime are unrelated. Let's explore how routine drone solar inspections can help us maintain the highest level of efficiency at our solar power facilities. We will also discuss how the DJI M300 RTK and its payloads help solar energy become competitive with fossil fuels.

Every solar panel will eventually deteriorate due to exposure to the elements. According to studies, solar panels deteriorate at a rate of 0.5–3% annually, which is accelerated by extreme heat and humidity. You need to be concerned about the strain of use creating degradation in the form of PID (Potential Induced Degradation) and LID in addition to ordinary degradation (Light Induced Degradation). While PID is less understood and never stops damaging solar panels, LID is fairly managed in that it stops having an impact after a few hours. It is currently accepted that salt accumulation and extreme humidity can cause electricity to arc and harm.

PID can result in solar panels losing more than 30% of their output capability, according to tests. These panels might lose up to 90% of their productivity in unfavorable situations where PID is not recognized and treated. This production loss is solely due to PID; when you add degradation from additional causes, such as insufficient ventilation, extreme heat, and more, you're looking at significant energy loss. The bright side is that, in the majority of circumstances, heat escapes from a system when electricity isn't produced. Thermal sensors can identify hotspots where this heat is present.

Drone-Based Photovoltaic (PV) Technology System Maintenance Work

Examination of Solar Panels

Routine inspections followed by maintenance drives are the key to maximizing efficiency because solar panels deteriorate and produce less over time. Inspections, however, turn into a laborious operation when you're looking at a solar power plant of an industrial scale.

Drones vs. Manual Techniques

Although there are already some solar panel inspections being done, the vast majority are still being done manually with handheld thermal cameras.

Manufacturing flaws, cracks, bad interconnectors, faulty bypass diodes, and transient shadowing can all be found with a thermal camera.

The method could be more effective, but hand-held and manual checks are acceptable. Fly the drone forward to acquire data more quickly and accurately and to increase safety.

Drones, solar panel, uav, dji, ninetenths

In summary, the following are some of the ways that drones outperform conventional/handheld inspection methods:

• Improved productivity: Drones capture data more than 50 times faster than traditional methods. Due to the size of solar farms as installations, a drone with the right thermal camera can scan the site for flaws considerably more quickly than using a thermal camera on the ground.

• Improve information quality & quantity: efficiently find problems that manual processes could overlook.

• Steer clear of risky man hours: Inspections and surveys can be conducted without exposing yourself to potential risks.

• Lower costs: Not just for inspection, but also for equipment, maintenance, and potential shutdowns.

• Distribute, track, and save data: Organize data using a safe portal and practical reporting.

Drones have significant advantages when it comes to strengthening data collecting and increasing efficiency. Drones, for instance, enable solar panel inspectors to collect both thermal and RGB (visible light) data because of the complex payloads they can carry.

And although RGB is necessary to provide a full image of what is going on at your site, thermal imaging is critical for solar panel inspections.

drones solar panel inspection

Solar Inspections with DJI Matrice 300 RTK and Zenmuse H20T

Solar Inspections with DJI Matrice 300 RTK and Zenmuse H20T

As we've already established, it's challenging to examine solar facilities on foot. In order to gather data, inspectors would have to stroll between solar panels in the intense heat. This is a difficult, drawn-out process that is also ineffective.

In terms of payload, Zenmuse H20T is the undisputed champion. Multiple sensors and its precise heat output make it a good choice for drone inspections of solar farms. While the thermal sensor locates hotspots, the RBG pictures gathered can assist in identifying other problems and removing erroneous hotspots.

The M300 RTK, DJI's premier commercial drone, is ideal for PV inspections thanks to a variety of features and abilities.

With a maximum flying time of either 43 minutes with the H20T or 55 minutes without cargo, its flight performance contributes to driving efficiencies in the first place.

matrice 300 rtk

Because to this endurance, more data can be gathered in a single flight.

Along with being the most durable DJI aircraft to date, the M300 RTK features an improved wind-speed resistance of 15 m/s and an IP45 certification, which is higher than the IP43 rating of the M200 Series V2 and V1.

The drone has hot-swappable batteries, which enable operators to swap them out without having to restart the aircraft, reducing downtime.

Additionally, it is a very adaptable drone. Its ability to switch out payloads enables it to be utilized with a number of sensors, including photogrammetry or LiDAR surveying cameras, making it a versatile aircraft.

The H20T Payload is Here

The M300 RTK has a maximum payload weight of 2.7 kg, a maximum take-off weight of 9 kg, and it can also transport up to three payloads.

Through Payload SDK, the drone may be integrated with third-party sensors, the XT2 thermal camera, the Z30 zoom camera, and other payloads.

The H20 camera series, which was created specifically for the M300 RTK, is the actual star of this drone.

The H20T is a great option for PV inspections because it has wide-angle, thermal, and zoom capabilities. A laser rangefinder is also included, however it isn't very useful for inspecting solar panels.

H20T, dji, drones, ninetenths

The most important details are as follows: • Thermal: 640 x 512px radiometric camera. 30 frames per second.

• 20MP Zoom: 200x maximum zoom; 23x hybrid optical zoom. 4k/30fps video resolution

• Wide 12MP camera 24mm equivalent focal length; 82.9° DFOV.

The minimum thermal resolution required by IEC specifications for a successful thermal solar panel inspection is 640 x 480. It is surpassed by the H20T.

According to the IEC, a 9MP camera is adequate if you need RGB images to comprehend your thermal data. So once more, the H20T is appropriate.

Operators can also switch between several camera viewpoints with the H20T.

For Smart Inspection, Matrice 300 RTK

Solar-panel examinations are streamlined and automated by the M300 RTK's array of smart inspection capabilities.

  • Live Mission Recording: To prepare sample mission files for upcoming automated inspections, record mission actions such as aircraft movement, gimbal position, photo taking, and zoom level.

  • With the H20 Series, AI Spot-Check is available. Automate regular checks and record reliable results each time. To maintain consistent framing, onboard AI recognizes the subject of interest and identifies it in subsequent autonomous missions.

DJI Matrice 30 Series Inspection of Solar Panels

The DJI M30T, a model in the DJI M30 Series, is yet another excellent option.

DJI Matrice 30 Series Inspection of Solar Panels

  • The M30, a scaled-down version of the M300 RTK, has performance qualities that are extremely similar to those of the M300 RTK, is able to fly for up to 41 minutes, and even has an improved IP rating of IP55.

  • The camera is fixed to the drone and not interchangeable, unlike the M300 RTK, however it has some outstanding specifications:

  • Wide Camera: 12 MP 1/2" CMOS Sensor; DFOV: 84°; Equivalent Focal Length: 24 mm; Video Resolution: 4K/30fps.

  • 48 MP 1/2" CMOS Sensor Zoom Camera with 5x-16x Optical Zoom and 200x Maximum Hybrid Zoom; 8K Photo Resolution and 4K/30fps Video Resolution.

  • Thermal Imaging Camera: Equivalent Focal Length of 40 mm; Resolution of 640 x 512; or Infrared Image Super-resolution Mode of 1280 x 1024; Frame Rate of 30 fps; Measurement Accuracy of 2°C or 2%.

  • Laser Rangefinder: Range: 3 m - 1200 m; Accuracy: ±(0.2m+D×0.15%).

The M30T is considerably smaller than the M300 RTK in terms of size, making it simpler to carry and transport: especially helpful if your solar panels are situated in hard-to-reach locations.

DJI Mavic 3 Thermal- Inspection Of Solar Panels

DJI Mavic 3 Thermal-  Inspection Of Solar Panels

One of the newest industrial Drone in the world is the Mavic 3 Thermal. It has a thermal camera that makes it the ideal choice for thermal observations. It is also a good choice for search and recovery operations.

Comparatively speaking to its predecessor, version 3 has an improved camera with a 48 megapixel, 4/3" sensor, and a mechanical shutter. It offers a wider view and can gather more data due to its larger sensor. The result is that the drone is ideal for mapping and photography.

It also makes the drone more capable of functioning in lower light conditions.

The device now has a new 56-inch hybrid zoom, and the flash time has been increased to 45 minutes.

Conclusion :

Over the next few years, more solar panel installations are anticipated around the nation. An increase in installations corresponds to a rise in inspections. This is encouraging for the drone market.

Since they let inspection organizations capture exceptionally accurate data, increase efficiency, and improve safety, drones are a significantly more effective alternative than conventional, hand-held manual procedures.

The M300 RTK drone and the H20T provide a comprehensive solution for the DJI ecosystem, while the M30T is a more portable but less flexible variant of the M300.

The M200 Series V2, Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced, DJI Mavic 3 Thermal and M600 Pro, among other drones in the DJI ecosystem, can also be used for these tasks


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