Solar PV plants are getting bigger every day. For example, Elms Farm PV plant in Oxfordshire UK is a 30MW park, covering a surface of over 50Ha and containing more than 100,000 panels. To guarantee the energy output, malfunctioning panels need to be detected and replaced as quickly as possible. Today, infrared cameras on drones enable easy detection of defect panels, but the technology isn’t accurate enough to predict where problems will pop up. Ideally, each panel should be inspected frequently on damage or soiling. And in these large solar farms it takes a person at least one day to walk the complete site.

Airobot, expert in collision avoidance, has teamed up with Mind4Energy, expert in renewable energy systems, to develop a solution using flying robots, supported by an innovation subsidy from the Province of Limburg, Belgium.

“In this project we’re going to turn a professional drone into a flying robot for solar panel inspections”, says Jan Leyssens, Managing Director at Airobot, “we’ll add technology to make the drone fly safely and automatically at low altitudes above the panels and record with centimeter accuracy where the pictures are taken. The images will be stored in the cloud and processed with Artificial Intelligence to detect panels with problems”. The goal is to reduce the operational costs of solar park owners by doing better preventive maintenance. “This project will bring us a new tool to offer a better service to our customers”, adds Dirk Eeraerts, Co-founder at Mind4Energy, “it will help to get us a fast overview of the panels that need maintenance or cleaning which allows us to increase the lifespan of the installation and, in the end, reduce the cost of energy”.

The project will run throughout 2018 and first results are expected by the end of the year.

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