According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), new solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity around the world reached over 74,000 MW in 2017. Solar energy capacity grew faster than any other type of energy in the world. Inspections are essential to maintaining solar cell performance and minimizing potential power loss. In the United States, solar plants are required by law to be scanned annually with an infrared camera.
Drones are now being used to provide accurate imagery of solar plants in significantly less time, and with greater accuracy, than inspectors with handheld infrared cameras. Drones and sophisticated computer software are revolutionizing commercial solar park operations and management practices around the world.
A drone equipped with infrared sensors can fly over a large solar farm to quickly detect hot spots on PV panels, indicating subpar performance. An unmanned aerial vehicle mounted with a high-definition camera allows plant operators to see, capture and log detailed videos and still images of assets that need maintenance. Servicing issues are now proactively identified, problem units are brought back to full capacity faster, and plant reliability and output both benefit.
The use of drones on solar parks can significantly improve the operating efficiency, which in turn will reduce the cost ($/kWh) of electricity for the consumer. The cost for electricity from hydropower, wind and solar is less than from coal and oil fueled power plants and nuclear power plants. New battery systems enable renewable energy sources to provide continuous, uninterrupted power to the consumer.