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Drones and thermal imaging eased solar panel maintenance

May 10, 2023 3:20 pm

Drones and thermal imaging eased solar panel maintenance

Ishan Chaturvedi, Director & Co-Founder, Vareyn Solar Pvt. Ltd., talks about using drones and thermal imaging for solar plants.


India is on the path to achieving the solar energy target of 100 GW by 2022. For the same reason, technological advancements for maintaining solar PV plants are also witnessing a positive growth.

With new technology, maintaining solar PV plants is becoming easier. It includes drones combined with thermal imaging, robotic cleaning crews for large-scale solar PV plants, etc. Technological advancements, especially in thermal imaging and drone development, have proved beneficial in the easy maintenance of solar PV plants and are finding a strong foothold in this industry. These, combined with thermal imaging, are a winning combination and have the potential to help companies save on expensive maintenance costs for largescale solar plants.

Gone are the days when inspections and maintenance were deciphered with hand-held equipment. Thermal imaging via drones has augmented the ease of maintenance of large-scale solar PV plants. Solar technicians can now use drones with thermal imaging to cover the entire solar PV plant area without having to go on manual walks to cover the rows upon rows of a solar farm.

Initially, when solar energy applications were still developing, utility-scale solar PV plants were at most 10 megawatts in size. Therefore, it was easier to manage them, but today, large-scale plants range in size from 1000 MW to 2000 MW (or 1 GW to 2 GW). The sheer magnitude of the area that needs to be covered for maintenance poses a difficult challenge and is hard to manage manually. A standard 1-megawatt solar plant uses around 3 to 4 acres of land for installation. This area can be thousands of acres for larger plants, which is a tedious task for any human to complete and may result in inaccurate data.

Therefore, drones and thermal imaging are the winning combinations for solar PV plant operation and maintenance. Here’s how:

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• Identifying Hotspots: Hotspots are areas or sections in a solar panel that get heated more than usual. This excessive heating may lead to fires or burn marks on the solar panel. In the worst-case scenario, it can cause massive fires in the solar PV plant, thus damaging more panels.

Hotspots can result from many reasons, like manufacturing defects, mishandling of the solar PV panels during installation, poor maintenance and cleaning of the solar panels, etc. These hotspots reduce the plants’ efficiency and power generation capacity. In the long run, it can cause fires, monetary damages, and/or loss of life. Thermal imaging burns Solar Panel Junction Boxes can be identified, as can the causes of Junction Box Burns.

• Cleaning Water Quality IssuesThermal imaging and drones also assist businesses in gaining critical information about the maintenance frequency of their plants. A plant that is not cleaned regularly or efficiently can cause a loss of growth compared to a healthy plant. More often than not, the water quality in many areas could be better. This often leads to silt formation on the panels. This then poses a difficulty for cleaning, as these require special chemicals for removal.

• Shadow recognition: Shadows from neighbouring trees or structures can lead to generation loss. Drones come in handy in the operation of the plant, as thermal imagery during peak generation hours helps the owners understand flaws in the installation. These include poor shadow analysis or environmental issues wherein a particular object creates a shadow on the solar array.

• Solar Panel Health: Manufacturers of solar panels often offer warranties on their products. This is usually as per industry standards. Drones and thermal imaging help in determining the degradation of solar panels and if the warranty needs to be invoked. This prevents further damage to the plant.

With the increased application of solar PV plants, drones and thermal imaging have become critical to maintaining solar PV plant health.

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