Regardless of your industry, it’s certain that technology has changed at least one way you work. From artificial intelligence to smartphones and augmented reality, there’s no shortage of incredible new products to make our daily lives easier and more productive, yet it’s often the less glamorous innovations such as wind turbines that are having the biggest impact on our daily lives and more importantly, our environment.
Turbine Inspections: An Outdated, but Necessary Task
There’s an amazing 341 thousand wind turbines currently in operation around the globe, producing an abundance of clean and renewable energy, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and coal power stations. It’s fair to say wind turbines are a bit of an unsung hero in the 21st century.
But what happens when one of these power-producing monoliths comes to a halt? Unfortunately, conventional inspection methods require workers to manually inspect a turbine’s blades, making it incredibly expensive, time-consuming and dangerous, especially when the largest turbines can stand over 260 metres tall and have a diameter of over 200 metres.
Thankfully, technology has streamlined this process in the form of inspection drones, significantly increasing the uptime of wind turbines, and reducing expensive maintenance. So, how do drones benefit inspection workers? Keep reading to find out!
1. Drones Go Where Humans Can’t
Perhaps the leading benefit of drone technology is that they can fly almost anywhere. As the majority of wind turbines are in wide-open spaces away from human activity, drone pilots have complete freedom and access to inspect every inch of a wind turbine to detect potential issues before they become significant.
Often businesses will consider the ROI of a purchase to gauge its effectiveness, and in the case of drone inspections for wind turbines, it’s easy to see how the purchase of a drone inspection setup can significantly reduce the maintenance and repair costs.
2. Drones Eliminate Risk of Injury
As previously mentioned, the inspection of turbines is difficult, whether it be the location, the height of the turbine or frequency of inspection, manual methods of turbine inspection are high risk. Drones however remove this risk, as pilots can remain in a safe location while the drone completes the inspection.
Better yet, numerous newer drones such as the DJI Matrice 300 RTK can be programmed before the mission to follow waypoints. The drone then follows these waypoints, allowing the pilot to automate the inspection process and ensure that images and data that are captured can be compared over the lifetime of a turbine.
3. Drones Will Keep Our Future Bright
Though their cost and time-saving benefits are easy to identify, it’s also worth highlighting how drones can impact the health of turbines themselves.
In the next three years, it’s estimated that eight thousand blades will be decommissioned and buried in landfill in the United States. That number might be surprising, but it just means there’s still room for improvement — a space that drone technology is looking to fill.
Iberdrola, is one of the world’s biggest electricity utilities, and the second-largest wind power producer globally. In the UK you’d probably recognise their subsidiary Scottish Power,who are responsible for some of the UK’s largest offshore wind farms, including the largest in British waters, the East Anglia ONE wind farm.
With over 12,000 turbines worldwide, Iberdrola needed a solution to increase their inspection efficiency and safety. In 2013 they began investing in drone technology, having seen the benefits of the technology in other sectors like construction and survey.
The collection of critical inspection data has now been applied in a novel way on the turbine bases in East Anglia ONE, Iberdrola’s largest wind farm and one of the largest in the world, offering greater traceability and inspection safety.
On the one hand, drones have allowed Iberdrola to map the entire surface of critical elements for analysis, which is effectively monitored by certifiers, and, on the other hand, it has served as a reference for improving the design of the operation and maintenance plan.
4. What’s next?
If you’re ready to transform your wind turbine inspections using commercial drone solutions, or you want to increase the earning potential of your drone service provider business, click here to sign up for our BRAND NEW course, “UAV Inspection of Wind Turbines,” and get started today.
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