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Drones have quickly been adopted for use in the energy industry, with their versatility enabling them to carry out essential roles across the spectrum of energy generation sources. Visual imagery with zoom capabilities are perfect for inspections of wind turbines, or for other power infrastructure where climbing or other traditional methods of inspection are dangerous, costly and slow. Thermal sensors are perfect for uses such as inspection of solar fields, or identifying sources of heat loss in power plants. Drones are able to cover acres of solar fields quickly and efficiently with pre-planned flight modes, and are safer and more cost effective than other methods of in-flight data collection.
Wind turbines need to be routinely inspected for weaknesses and defects to maintain safe and proper function. Traditional methods of inspection are dangerous, time-consuming and expensive. Drones practically eliminate the risk, and dramatically reduce the cost and time of each inspection. Drones provide access to hard-to-reach locations by getting right up next to the blade and taking 3-D pictures that show any dents or holes. The wind farm industry has been increasingly adopting this superior method of aerial inspection to collect information crucial to the operation of their wind turbines, and it is safe to assume that it will become the industry standard procedure in the near future. Thermal imagery is useful in locating potential electrical issues by identifying hotspots. High-resolution cameras with powerful zoom capabilities are important in being able to spot damaged or degrading material surfaces to ensure timely repair and maintenance. The right drone and payload are absolutely essential to conduct inspections safely and efficiently, and to ensure that operators are able to obtain high-resolution thermal and visual data. The Matrice 210-RTK is the ideal solution for wind turbine inspection, with a dual gimbal, and a Real Time Kinematics (RTK) positioning system that can deliver centimeter-level precision for applications that require the maximum possible precision. When equipped with the Zenmuse Z30, with an optical zoom up to 30x and digital up to 6x, operators are able to achieve unparalleled image data capture, while virtually eliminating the risk of harm to personnel and equipment. The Zenmuse XT or XT2 will ensure the ability to capture high-quality thermal data. Other quality options for wind turbine inspections include the Mavic 2 Enterprise or the Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual.
In the solar energy field, the usefulness of drones begins even before solar panels are installed. The thermal imagery and 3D mapping made possible with drones help inform the decision-making process on the optimal placement of solar panels for most efficient energy production. Once panels are installed and begin production, drones are crucial in providing information as to functionality. With their ability to quickly cover large areas, drones are absolutely essential in performing inspection of large solar arrays. Covering the same amount of ground on foot is painstakingly slow and inefficient. Thermal imaging is the key component here with the ability to alert operators to broken or non-functioning panels, as a solar panel with no or low output will be obviously cooler than the others. Making sure these areas are fixed to maintain peak performance and output, helps avoid costly slowdowns or interruptions in service. In terms of the best drone for the job, the star of the show when it comes to sheer versatility and strength, is once again the Matrice 200 series. The Matrice 200 equipped with the Zenmuse XT is a great option, or if absolute centimeter precision is required, the Matrice 210-RTK is the ideal solution. Another solid choice for work in solar panel inspections is the Inspire 1 with Zenmuse XT. If extremely large areas of solar array need to be covered, a fixed-wing drone may be a better choice with its ability to remain aloft for much longer uninterrupted stretches of time, in which case the senseFly eBee is a good option, when paired with a thermal camera payload such as the Duet T.
Powerline inspections are an essential part of maintaining an efficient and functioning power industry. Employing drones for inspection of power lines and transmission towers greatly reduces the risk of injury to personnel, and dramatically reduce the time required to cover large distances, and allows surveys to be completed within minutes instead of hours, with much more precision and reliability than with traditional methods. One of the best options for covering long linear distances is the senseFly eBee, equipped with the senseFly Corridor. This camera is specialized for mapping of linear infrastructure and sites, and is housed in portrait position. As a result, it requires 30% fewer images to map the same linear route, making it that much easier and faster to acquire and process the images to produce a map. Another good option for inspection of power lines and transmission towers is the Matrice 210 RTK for centimeter-accurate positioning, and when equipped with the Zenmuse XT allows for high-resolution thermal imaging, while the Zenmuse Z30 with powerful zoom capabilities ensures high-quality, detailed visual imaging while still maintaining a safe distance from power lines and towers.
A variety of other power generating plants can put drones to good use as well, especially in the important work of identifying areas of heat loss. Thermal sensors can provide detailed images of essential components of the power station, with hotspots indicating areas of concern or inefficiency. With this data in hand, these issues can be addressed to improve functionality and even prevent costly and dangerous malfunctions. Visual inspections are also made simpler and safer with drones, able to cover more surface area in a fraction of the time, and access areas difficult to reach with manual inspection methods.