Renewables in US: A continuous innovation Path

Published on Monday, 5 March 2018

“Automation of solar plant inspections is an opportunity for cross-collaboration between EGP’s O&M and Innovation divisions. In addition, utilizing UAVs to perform final inspections can help streamline handover process from E&C to O&M, ensuring proper production at the site.”

– Milan Heninger, Senior Technical Support Manager Geothermal/Solar Operations and Maintenance.

Automated solar plant inspections by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), or drones, have been tested at various solar farms in North America. Drone inspections can help solar plants run more efficiently and effectively, with less time spent diagnosing routine maintenance issues.

The promising results of EGP North America’s initial inspections will lead to further testing and could revolutionize our solar plant maintenance on a global scale. Using an internal customized solution, field personnel can effectively analyze the data captured from solar farms.

Drones equipped with a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) thermal sensor can quickly perform routine inspection of solar panels, detecting defects and abnormalities down to a single cell on a panel.

To date, nine comprehensive solar inspections have been conducted, and the data has helped identify and localize specific routine maintenance issues. Without the assistance of a drone’s thermal imaging, these maintenance issues would have taken longer to detect and diagnose. Right now, we are completing the testing phase to improve the autonomous flight solution in terms of precision, optimization of the route, and flight safety.

Since drones provide detailed monitoring and low cost surveying, information can be collected and rapidly disseminated to Geographical Information Systems (GIS); 3D models can then be created with amazing accuracy and at a lower cost. In addition to performing inspections at solar and wind farms, drones are also being used to perform topo surveys, orthoimagery, 3D models, and point clouds.


Condition Monitoring Tools

In addition to drones, EGP’s O&M teams have begun using ultrasonic tools for condition monitoring at various solar sites. These powerful handheld tools can be used to detect electrical problems – based on sound – and the technician doesn’t have to open up any electrical boxes or equipment. It’s a simpler, safer alternative for the technician. If the ultrasonic probe detects a certain frequency that’s outside of its normal operating range, it alerts the technician, and subsequently, issues with switchgear, substations, and overhead lines can be addressed quickly.

Recently, about 20 members of the hydro and geo/solar O&M teams attended a training session on the use of ultrasonic tools for condition monitoring; EGP’s Cove Fort, Aurora, Stillwater, and Salt Wells plants are planning on implementing this technology in the near future. Operation & Maintenance teams continue fostering the investments in new technological tools and innovative methods optimizing efficiency and productivity of our renewable plants.