Yes, you read it right. Drones! All of us have seen them fly around. Taking videos and photos mostly. A lot of us have heard of deliveries with drones. Some of us even know they are used in topographic surveys. But replacing men carrying around those large tripods and surveying land is not the only thing that one could do with drones. With rapid advances in the technology that drives these machines and the advances that we have witnessed in miniature sensors, drones are now a key tool in the hands of the enterprise.
At SenseHawk, we decided to find every industrial and enterprise application that could potentially use drones and then build solutions that added value to these applications. Solar PV was our first port of call. Large solar plants are veritable mega structures. Built with hundreds and thousands of PV modules, inverters, cables, transformers, and steel structures, these represent engineering challenges at every stage of development and operation. Spread over hundreds and in cases, thousands of acres, solar plants were the ideal application for drones.
For starters, before a plant is constructed, developers perform a topographic survey to understand ground conditions and design the plant. Done with a total station and surveyors walking around, this task takes days if not weeks. With a drone and some good processing infrastructure, the same survey can be done with 1000x more resolution and 10x more accuracy in a single day. For solar developers, this accelerates the design process and also eliminates all cost escalation due to design variance.
That was the easy part however! The hard part is building these behemoths in a matter of months. How do engineers keep track of such large sites and ensure things are being built right and on schedule. Drone based construction monitoring is the answer. All one needs is a site engineer with a drone, means to fly the drone, and a processing engine that uses collected data to make sense of what is going on. With our Link app, Workspace, and Hawk.AI, this is exactly what we enabled. Now, developers can not only keep track of their sites, they can decide if they want to take a closer look at something and remotely command a drone to go collect the data they need and then have a report sent to their inbox. Almost effortlessly.
Once the plant is built, the mantle passes on to O&M engineers who work to ensure the plant is in good health and generating energy as expected. For that is what generates revenue! Operating and maintaining a large plant is not simple. Crews are constantly at work checking for issues, fixing issues, and then checking again. This translates to people spending hours in the sun, walking in the middle of rows and rows of solar modules to check if everything is OK. But manual inspections can only do that much and asset owners have long wanted a faster and more accurate solution to plant monitoring. And this is where the final piece of our solution for solar works. With drones and our software, monitoring a plant is as easy as clicking on a button. With a single click, site engineers can perform hot-spot scans , vegetation growth analysis and yes, we are now working on module soiling assessment.
As I write this, we are just finishing up work on 2GW of solar assets that we have helped build, monitor, or assess. Watch this space to keep up with drones that are helping developers power the world with clean, green solar energy.