• Wind and Solar
  • Renewables
  • AI
  • Drones
  • Wind Power

Rise of Drones and AI for Solar and Wind O&M

Pritil Gunjan
Sep 05, 2018

Wind Energy

The US subsidiary of Enel Green Power North America (EGPNA) and software company Raptor Maps Inc. has signed a memorandum of understanding to develop AI-based drones for utility-scale solar asset management technologies that will optimize the field operations and maintenance (O&M) of solar assets. The project aims to train its first batch of 30 field workers by December 2018. Enel’s North American projects will be used as a testing ground. The machine learning technology and algorithms will be rolled out for utility-scale solar assets.

Improving on Existing Plans

Enel has already had a robust data analytics solution for post monitoring and inspection analysis and plans to scale its platform for real time failure identification. Its objective is to reduce the need for transmitting large amounts of data over long distances. This AI-enabled technology will use thermal imagery and high resolution cameras to obtain data which will be processed at the source of data collection, reducing the amount of data that needs to be transferred to an evaluation center.

Technology accelerators such as drones and machine learning have the potential to optimize asset performance while providing digital capabilities to support O&M across renewable energy assets. Benefits of digitizing O&M activities include:

  • It will make it possible to synchronize and balance the energy demand and consumption curve while offering the best failure monitoring services.
  • It will help identify faults before they occur through predictive and prescriptive maintenance, which will be a key input to build asset failure profiles.
  • It will support advanced data analytics to drive risk management decisions while identifying actual O&M costs for each phase of the asset lifecycle.
  • It will facilitate machine learning and analytics to effectively predict the life expectancy of assets and reduce further CAPEX investments.

As renewable assets near their end-of-warranty period, operators need to ensure they can continue to optimize performance and meet availability guarantees. SkySpecs, launched in April 2017, has developed an autonomous drone that has been used to inspect 54 wind farms. These drones inspect wind turbine blades, looking for defects and damage from weather and wear. The drones also take turbine measurements that the company then correlates to the photos, so it can pinpoint exactly where damage is when they find it.

As the company matures, it will be able to track damage over time. For example, the drone will return to the same wind farm one year later to see if damage has gotten worse or stayed the same. Automated monitoring and maintenance programs can eventually help create new standards that can apply to how a blade is manufactured in the first place. This technology has a strong value proposition for both solar and wind power installations. Based on the asset’s vulnerability and criticality, asset owners may choose an appropriate maintenance strategy.

Maintenance Strategies for Solar and Wind Assets

Maintenance Strategy impact risk grid

(Source: World Economic Forum)

While asset operators remain skeptical about the benefits of high tech digitization for O&M, some argue that the industry should prepare for that impending future. Technology accelerators can help break down the difference between expected and actual performance across different asset types while identifying the causes of performance loss. Operators with aggregated installed capacities often push for better prices and contract terms in line with their increased bargaining power in the market.

Guidehouse Insights recommends that technology providers take advantage of this opportunity and offer integrated end-to-end asset performance management across equipment and components, thus benefiting from economies of scale. Asset operators, on the other hand, can take advantage of a one-stop shop for all their asset performance needs.