Drone Inspection Of Solar Panels

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solar panel team droneA drone could be a new , great solution for the inspection of solar farms. A quadcopter has high payload, so it will be able to carry a payload of a thermal imaging camera and a secondary RGB camera.

The United Arab Emirates is rapidly becoming a global provider of renewable energy solutions, through initiatives such as Masdar City Solar Photovoltaic, The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park and partnering with New Zealand to boost solar power in Solomon Islands.

The substantial increase in renewable energy consumption has led to a proportional rise in the demand and implementation of solar farms. However, difficulty in maintenance of solar panels is slowing the development of such projects. If the inspection is made easy and frequent with the use of UAVs, the solar energy investments will rapidly increase.

Inspection and maintenance is an exceedingly time-consuming task. Thus, any conventional inspection activity is strenuous, resource intensive and physically taxing.

Implementation of a UAV would translate to a substantial replacement of manpower with a more effective and efficient technology. This will also increase inspection rates, which will eventually result in a higher power output as the solar panels can be easily maintained during the night after collecting the data.

A thermal imaging camera is mounted on the frame via a 3-axis Gimbal so that stabilized images of the panels can be captured in windy and adverse environments. An RGB camera is attached to give a live video feed back to the ground station to monitor the mission and also act as the FPV (First Person View) for the pilot in case of manual flight/override.

The UAV uses Pixhawk from 3DR as its Autopilot and Stability Augmentation System. A dedicated GPS module is mounted on the quadcopter, allowing it to carry out ‘Way point navigation’ missions autonomously.

The drone would take off from the control station and then fly along a pre-planned route using GPS waypoint navigation. It would hover over each panel to capture an image, which would be simultaneously geo-tagged and stored on-board. These images would later be analysed for ‘Hot Spots’, which are areas of abnormal temperature, higher than the operating point for the panels.

The UAV is designed to be robust with multiple backups and redundancies to ensure maximum safety. Features like geo-fencing, return to home and human operated kill-switch will ensure the safety of its surroundings.

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