Conducting a Solar Panel Inspection with an eBee Drone

Prior to announcing a new camera for a senseFly drone, our team always tests the sensor in depth. In many cases, we also engage in pilot projects with third-party organisations who could benefit from the drone’s data outputs.

This was the case a few months ago when we brought out the thermoMAP, the first thermal infrared sensor for our fixed-wing eBee mapping drones.

To put this heat-seeking cam through its paces we teamed up with Romande Energie, a forward-thinking Swiss organisation whose photovoltaic team was interested in conducting a full solar farm inspection with a drone. The site in question: a photovoltaic installation that Romande Energie manages, situated on the roof of a large building owned by the Swiss supermarket chain, Migros.

Flight plan - 1 flight was carried out in the thermal spectrum for a total of 1600 photos The flight plan of the second eBee mission, created in eMotion.

Our staff flew a thermoMAP-carrying eBee over the site’s 4,000 panels on two separate dates. The goal of the project was twofold: to identify hotspots (indicating panels that, for some reason, are not working properly, or are completely turned off), and to give Romande Energie the data its team required to assess the effects of dirt on solar panel performance.

Thermal image One of the eBee’s thermal infrared images showing a hotspot, due to a malfunctioning panel.

Here’s how Julien Waehlti, the Photovoltaic & Biomass Asset Manager at Romande Energie, summarised the value drones can add: “An asset manager has a certain number of tools at his disposal to check the performance of solar installations. He has monitoring systems, a whole bunch of equipment on-site that collects data, and of course he can run visual inspections. But that isn’t always enough. What’s really nice about the drones is that they give you another pair of eyes — the problems appear much more easily. It’s also an enormous gain of time compared to having a team going through and checking the panels one by one or taking pictures. That can take days. Whereas here, to fly a site of 4,000 panels took approximately five minutes. So the benefits are clearly there.”

Watch the project video:

Learn more about the eBee 

Learn more about thermoMAP