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Thermographic studies, drones and solar energy (photovoltaic and CSP)

06 August 2018

 We carry out a contrasted and documented study on the use and progress of technologies applied to te satisfactory development of solar energy, more precisely on drones and thermographic studies in photovoltaic and solar thermal power plants.

Even at the beginning, te professional use of airplanes or unmanned aerial vehicles, with seized thermal cameras for remote sensing, is getting more potential to be imposed as the ideal for visual and thermal inspections of photovoltaic or solar thermal plants and also many other utilities that we do not consider here (inspection in industrial environments, civil constructions, wind farms, power lines, precision crops, sports events and in the audiovisual sector, etc.).

In the field of renewable energies and especially photovoltaics, thermography – is an old technology derived from the last century – In combination with the technology of the drone, it helps us to obtain a fast and safe inspection of large surfaces, it get possible the detection and localization of effective anomalies (hot spots, diode bypass) to enable the consequent repair works in the shortest time possible. On the other side, obtaining real, quality and highly reliable data allows us to make appropriate decisions, eliminate unnecessary cost and risks and increase the usefull life of assets due to heir optimized and constant efficiency improvements. 

After a first law approved in 2014, on december 15th, 2017, the Government of Spain approved the new legal framework by which the civil use of piloted aircraft was regulated by remote control. See BOE (spanish document) and press release of te Ministry of Development.

For that propose, the State Aviation Safety Agency (AESA) publishes on its website the documentation oriented to the application of the provisions of this Royal Decree and its development provisions, among other guide material, which facilitates compliance by the operating companies or individuals.

Since 2014, AESA has registered more than 3.000 operators in Spain and some of them offer specialized services in the field of aerial thermography. They hace flight technicians (pilots certified by AESA) and technics specialized in the interpretation of thermografics (ITC certification or other).

These specialized companies highlights as fundamental, the next technical parameters of thermal thermographic cameras to be used for a correct inspection:

  • The cameras must have an automatic optimization system of contrast and a good image resolution, with an FPA of 640* 512
  • The temperature range measured vi the thermal camera is between -40ºC and 500ªC (variable range depending on the camera)
  • The camera must be radiometric to calculate the temperatures of each element.
  • The camera must be equipped with a wide-angle lens (13 mm) to capture wide planes.

Regarding the optimal weather conditions it is important to note that:

  • The sky should be clear and the absence of wind is preferable.
  • It is necessary a good solar radiation with values between 400 and 750W/m2.
  • The lower air temperature, the mayor will be the possible thermal contrast.

Thermographic images of photovoltaic solar plants must show if some parts of te photovoltaics modules are warmer than others. The most common defects founded are: module breakages due to impacts, connection problems, interconnection problems, defects in te bypass diodes. In parallel, it is important to carry out a RGB image capture to highlight possible shadows or dirt on the modules that are faking the obtained IR data.

In the case of solar thermal plants, the same as photovoltaic solar plants, aerial inspections offer undoubted advantages in saving time and costs as well as their usefulness in the prevention of occupational risks. In this type of inspections, what is mainly sought are breaks in both the secondary mirrors and the primary circuits to detect hotspots and leaks in the insulators thar cover the circuits. A robust growth of the robotic and drones market is expected in the next few years, according to te magazine IT USER, dated july 19th, 2018: “The robotic and drones market will double in five years”.

This same magazine published on may 30th, 2018: “According to te CEO Outlook report of 2018, Spanish CEOs clearly see what artificial intelligence and robotics processes can contribute to business (…) According to this file, 2% of Spanish CEOs interviewed stated to have implemented this type of technology in some processes, another 52% are testing it in the form of pilot projects in a small number od processes and another 46% have started a limited implementation in some processes”.

Marta Martínez Queimadelos, CEO of the Grupo T-Solar, reports that “improving the performance of our assets is one of our main objectives, making use of new technologies that can be applied in our sector”. For this reason, Grupo T-Solar has opted for the incorporation of thermographic studies with drones, having recently succesfully implemented thermographic evaluation in its plants in Spain, Italy and Peru. This last study can be viewed in te following video.

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