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HEMAV, drone-based inspection and maintenance of photovoltaic plants

DRONE TECHNOLOGY APPLIED TO PHOTOVOLTAIC PLANTShemav fotovoltaicas drone

Drone technology has grown steadily in recent years in the field of solar plant maintenance and inspection, thanks to its capacity for integrating thermal cameras into UAV platforms to analyze in detail the infrared radiation emitted by a surface. Drawing on its experience in this field, HEMAV has succeeded in proving that this type of thermographic works with drones result in a 90% improvement in performance, compared to conventional methods.

hemav fotovoltaicas drone

This advantage seems obvious for the inspection of the plants that are currently in operation in Spain (of a capacity exceeding 1,0MWp), but for the new developments planned after the recent renewable energy auctions (plants having a capacity of up to 350 MWp), it becomes crucial to have the means to improve inspection times and reduce costs. It is at this time that concepts such as asset digitalization, soiling control, loss of associated peak power and failure prediction are actively incorporated into asset maintenance management.

UAV-BASED SOLAR PLANEL MAINTENANCEhemav fotovoltaicas drone

Aside from the routine visual inspections, which in most cases don’t stick to a strict discipline, the inspection of plants in a maintenance phase seem to be limited to thermography.

The increase in the demand for this type of inspections, often results in thermographic works having to face four problems:

  1. a) Inspection from the ground (or jeep) is overstretched and maintenance companies see the available hours of their staff reduced without yielding any clear returns on this works, at the expense of other activities that are more productive.
  2. b) The cameras available to operate manually can take snapshots and store them, but they require arduous work afterwards to classify and generate reports.
  3. c) Given these conditions and without a support software, it is not possible to generate a report of the digital platform allowing its subsequent management.
  4. d) There is no way to guarantee the correct location of the takings stored, since they are usually noted in notebooks, which could result in human error.

In this context, drone technology appears to be a satisfactory solution to these problems. Firstly, UAV platforms allow to integrate cameras that can obtain an ongoing record of images and videos. Also, the incorporation of the video software video report filling, which automates significantly human intervention in the digital generation of anomaly information, and the accurate location technologies by means of differential GNS systems, such as GPS/GPRS, allow to generate digital anomaly information with location traceability, compared to conventional inspection reports. This digital information can be exported to digital platforms for display, log data tracking, manufacturer assessment or failure prediction.hemav fotovoltaicas drone

Another crucial issue to bear in mind during aerial thermography is the effect of thermal pollution -similar to blurring in the visual spectrum-. Today, there are highly precise cameras with infrared focal lens (IFOV) that can be integrated in a drone and that, at the right height, attain captures largely comparable to those obtained from the ground. Another important point is the categorization criteria regarding the hotspots detected, as it is a key service adjustment to avoid the generation of inconclusive reports.

But, what does the future hold for this technology? Today, HEMAV is pursuing two different lines of research. On the one hand, it has focused on the development of a processing software that fully automates data processing, through the incorporation of deep learning technology. This automation of failure significantly simplifies the task of the certified thermographer, reducing production times and costs. On the other hand, it has embarked on an ambitious project aimed at developing a soiling and loss of associated peak power detection system, which will lead to an overall improvement in the data capture and asset maintenance of its clients.

 

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