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Close up of a drone flying over a field. Image courtesy of Above.

7 Jun 2019

Solar experts and aerial inspection company awarded £345k to develop drone technologies that detect panel defects

Academics from Loughborough University are to work with aerial inspections and data analytics company, Above, as part of a £345k project that looks to benefit the wider solar industry.

The funding, awarded by the Innovate UK’s Open Grant Funding Competition, will see experts from the Centre for Renewable Energy Systems Technology (CREST) work with the tech company to further advance its inspection and data analytics offerings and provide valuable insights into the impact of module-level defects.

Above utilise drones to carry out thermographic and high-resolution inspections of utility-scale solar farms internationally.

Aerial thermographic inspections are fast emerging as a vital tool for the inspection of large-scale solar assets and the partnership will focus on finding a correlation between faults identified using aerial thermography and power loss within solar modules.

It aims to provide greater insight into how identified defects can affect the power loss of a large solar asset – an important next step in the use of aerial inspection services within the solar industry.

The research looks to provide more knowledge on the impact of module defects on the overall plant yield, leading to more informed decision-making, better fault diagnosis and quicker response time; helping to keep solar farms performing optimally.

Not only will this have commercial benefits, but it will also help safeguard the health of solar farms in the UK (and internationally), supporting the global goal of low-carbon energy generation.

The project will also leverage AI and Deep Learning to further automate the post-processing of the large data volumes associated with large scale solar assets and deliver accurate power loss estimations to Above’s core software service, SolarGain Inspection Hub.

Close up of a drone flying over a field. Image courtesy of Above.

Of the collaboration, Professor Michael Walls, CREST’s Professor of Photovoltaics for Power Systems, said: “By working together with Above, we plan to be able to analyse faults in individual modules in huge solar farms using drone-based aerial thermography.

“By automating the image analysis, the managers of solar farms will be able to obtain a fast and accurate assessment of the health of their assets.”

Kenan Isbilir, Technical Consultant at Above, said: “This is an exciting project to work on, I am sure Above and the wider solar industry will benefit from the technical and commercial output of the project.

“It is great to be working in collaboration with CREST at Loughborough University where I’ve spent my last three years completing my PhD.”

CEO of Above, Will Hitchcock, added: “We are excited to work on this project with Loughborough’s CREST.

“Having previously collaborated on a solar panel coating project, we are highly aware of the level of expertise available within the CREST team.

“We look forward to breaking new ground with this latest project and developing a valuable service to offer the solar industry.”