The increasing deployment of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems has put an emphasis on finding cost-effective operations and maintenance (O&M) practices.
In a new white paper, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) looks at how plant operators can find benefits with the use of unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, for O&M.
The paper, Utilizing Unmanned Aircraft Systems as a Solar Photovoltaics O&M Tool, reviews applications and economics, device capabilities, technical developments and the regulatory landscape that could have an effect on the way drones are used for PV O&M and other applications.
Nearly half the world’s solar PV installations are large, utility-scale systems, which can span tens of thousands of modules and acres. EPRI posits drones can automate tasks, like visual imaging, wiring and other components; use infrared thermography to detect potential module failures; and monitor vegetation – all while saving time and money on labor, dispatch and accessibility.
“Aerial systems have the potential to provide significant benefits and savings for the electric utility industry, and some utilities are beginning to explore the use of the technology,” said Tom Alley, vice president of EPRI’s Generation research. “EPRI is collaborating with its members to further characterize, develop and validate a variety of applications, and PV O&M is one that is gaining interest globally.”