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How can Drones Improve Solar Farm Inspections?

Last updated on

April 1, 2022


    10 minute read

    In 2020, the SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association) estimated a new solar energy system was installed every 75 seconds globally, and by 2023 the UK’s solar energy production is set to become 15,674 MW (3rd highest producer in Europe). According to 2020 figures, just under 500 solar farms are now in operation in the UK, with the largest covering over 250 acres (Shortwick Solar Park).

    Yet, even with radical technological advances, solar panels and photovoltaics (PV) still require regular maintenance and inspection to ensure optimal energy production.

    This poses a unique challenge for energy companies as solar farms cover vast areas, making inspection and maintenance of these facilities incredibly time, labour and cost-intensive.

    How can Drones & UAVs Help? 

    Drones are already being deployed across the UK for inspection purposes, ranging from infrastructure (bridges) to water and utilities, yet solar panels have remained a very manual process.

    Often inspections will be carried out using hand-held thermal cameras to identify defects, cracks, and shadowing. While effective, this method is incredibly inefficient.

    So how do drones enhance solar panel inspections?

    • Gather better information: Powerful thermal and visual cameras, combined with an aerial perspective allow users to gain enhanced insight compared to manual, ground-based inspections.

    • Increase operational safety: Drones ensure your team can maintain a safe distance from faulty or damaged equipment.

    • Automate the inspection process: Drones like the Matrice 300 RTK and M30 series feature full automated mission planning through their waypoint system, allowing even greater efficiency and longitudinal data comparison.

    • Reduce labour and maintenance costs: Smaller teams and reduced time on site allow you to reduce costs and maximise ROI for your solar array.

    • Store, analyse and share data: Through post-processing, detailed 2D & 3D maps enable continued analysis for better decision making.

    solar farm

    Using drones for solar inspection

    It’s clear that drones are an essential tool for solar and PV inspections, but which drones should you use? The answer is less complicated than you might think.

    To begin with, it’s essential that the drone you use has thermal and visual imagining. Thermal imaging allows you to detect overheating or dead panel, while a visual camera can identify physical issues such as damage or dirt that may reduce the panels’ effectiveness.

    Below we’ve covered our top 3 drone recommendations for solar panel and PV inspection:

    The DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced is a great starting place for solar panel inspection. It features a compact, fast deploy design, an integrated 640 x 512px thermal camera that’s perfect for identifying hot spots accurately, and a 48MP camera with 32x digital zoom. This means capturing high quality, accurate data from a safe distance has never been easier.

    DJI’s newest family of drones the M30 series combines the features of the Matrice and Mavic series, featuring powerful thermal and visual cameras, long flight times and a compact foldable design to be easily transported.

    Interestingly, the M30 can be housed within the DJI Dock, a rugged base station that’s capable of charging and launching the M30 series using the FlightHub 2 software. The DJI Dock brings a whole new meaning to automated inspection missions, allowing teams to full automate their operations and enhance their workflow efficiency.

    Lastly, the DJI M300 RTK with a H20T camera is the option that provides the most versatility. The M300 is DJI’s flagship drone, capable of up to 55-minute flight times and able to carry a wide range of payloads, it’s clear why this drone is often the go-to option for inspection purposes.

    For the best possible data, the H20T camera combines a powerful 20x zoom lens, a 640×512 px Radiometric Thermal Camera and a 1200m laser range finder.

    Our Industry expert George Burne recently demonstrated the power of the M300 and H20T with Severn Trent Water, showing its true capabilities:

    Save time & money with Drone Technology

    Ready to revolutionise your solar farm inspection process like never before? Maybe you’re ready to expand your drone services by introducing solar farm inspections? Then you need the skills and knowledge to enter this new market with confidence.

    Enrol in our UAV Inspection of Solar Farms course today to learn first-hand how your business can benefit from drones!


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