Renewable Energy

Automate the Inspection of Solar Farms

November 16, 2021

Solar energy is a booming industry. A 2020 report by the International Energy Agency predicted that in 2021, renewable electricity generation was set to expand by more than 8%, with solar PV and wind contributing to two-thirds of global renewables growth.

But solar energy management comes with unique challenges. A 5 MW solar farm typically requires 30 to 40 acres of land. The sheer volume of space needed to generate solar energy poses significant operational challenges, especially when performing regular equipment inspections. Fortunately, ground robots offer an innovative solution – enabling businesses to automate solar inspections and data capture.


The Challenges of Inspecting Solar Farms

As with any utility-scale energy operation, solar farms require regular inspections to detect maintenance issues and ensure assets are operating correctly. But it can take days or even weeks for employees to walk through and examine acres of solar panels.

Another challenge is that solar farms are often in remote locations, so workers may have to drive hours to access the site. Once they arrive, weather conditions like intense heat, humidity, or sand can make inspections uncomfortable work.

All of this means that maintenance issues often aren’t discovered in a timely or efficient fashion. And even if inspections are regularly performed, they tend to be expensive exercises that drive up labor costs and erode profits.


Why Ground Robots are the Perfect Solution

Today’s ground robots are sophisticated, rugged, and agile. Some models can withstand extremely high temperatures and dust levels. They’re also strong enough to carry a range of payloads, including high-definition cameras and thermal sensors.

Ground robots can use outdoor navigation systems and visual cameras to move around solar farms, taking photographs as they go and capturing a complete visual record of your solar panels and mounting brackets. These photographs will capture issues like disconnected cables, damaged bearings, or rust.

You can also attach thermal sensors to ground robots to detect any solar panels operating outside of a typical heat range. When a solar panel overheats, its efficiency drops significantly, and this can also impact neighboring panels. Thermal sensors will detect which panel is overheating, allowing for problem resolution before energy loss or deterioration.

In comparison to drones, which are useful for inspecting large solar farms aerially, ground robots capture a close-up view of assets, detecting earlier signs of wear and tear. Ground robots have long-lasting batteries and the ability to carry multiple sensors to capture a wide range of data. They can even be left on-site to work autonomously using the DroneDeploy platform.


The Benefits of DD Ground Robotics

DroneDeploy Ground Robotics is the perfect software for automating solar farm inspections. We already support a wide range of robot form factors, including Boston Dynamics’ Spot and various kinds of ground rovers.

With DroneDeploy, you can send ground robots on autonomous inspection missions of your solar farm. By setting up robots to navigate using outdoor GPS navigation, the robot will even be able to complete missions without internet connectivity. This makes it suitable for solar inspections in remote locations.

Once the robot has reconnected to the internet, it will automatically upload data to the DroneDeploy platform. You can then tag and annotate any maintenance issues and assign these to workers, along with geolocation data, so they know precisely where the problem is. And if you’re getting low output or concerning sensor readings, you can teleoperate a robot and investigate these issues before sending a team out. This should save employees from performing routine trips to inspect remote locations.

By automating repetitive and laborious inspection tasks, your employees are freed up for higher value strategic work, saving money and improving maintenance efficiency. For this reason, ground robots are a game-changing technology for the solar industry – promising greater efficiency and significant cost-savings.

To learn more about our Ground Robotics solution, download our eBook on how to automate energy inspections with ground robotics, or contact us today.

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