2016 was a record-breaking year for the solar industry. The solar capacity was nearly doubled comparing to 2015 and it will triple over the next 5 years. The main driver is the utility photovoltaic (PV) segment.
Due to the massive growth, we see an urge to control productivity. Compared to other renewable energy sources, the load factor of PV plants is rather low. This lies within the regional differences as well as in monitoring the efficient use of solar modules. Frequent inspections help to ensure full efficiency of the solar modules, but the traditional methods are very cost and time-intensive.
This the trigger where drone operation comes into play. Aerial inspections via drone, infrared sensors and geo-referencing software reduce the operational time on-site and save more than 50%. The outcome: Early detection and mitigation of underperforming modules, increases the return on investment for solar operators and keeps the funders happy.
After intensive dialogs during the world’s biggest solar exhibition Intersolar 2017 in Munich, Germany, the message was clear. There is an urgent need of education about the potential of UAV operation for three reasons:
- The early stage of the solar industry: Setting up PV plants is still in the focus. Inspections, optimization and other operational facts haven’t reached a high degree of awareness yet.
- Technology: Mountable infrared sensors still need a lot of improvement to ensure reliable and georeferenced data and are still very expensive.
- Market transparency: Today only a few end-to-end UAV solutions for solar industry are available, leading to little market penetration and low ambitions by the global UAV players to build products for the solar market. Oil & gas, construction, mining and agriculture are still the main target verticals for UAVs.
Hence, the market challenges are clear: Stable, reliable and affordable UAV solar solutions, software for actionable data and a strong education of the hesitant solar industry.