Aerospec – How Aerial Inspection Can Hold PV Techniques On-line within the Aftermath of a Catastrophe – Drones Information


Between floods, storm winds, lightning strikes and hail, extreme weather is the number one cause of PV insurance claims, accounting for about 50% of the total. Therefore, it is critical for operations and maintenance (O&M) teams to be deployed on site immediately afterwards. The speed and flexibility of air inspection allows operators to quickly get their portfolios back online after a disaster.

The greatest strength of air inspection in an emergency is turnaround time. Aerospec Technologies leads the industry in turnaround time, providing a comprehensive report with visual aids and geotagged data for operations up to 50 MW in 72 hours. In an emergency, smaller segments of reports can be generated in a matter of hours for areas that need urgent attention. O&M providers will find that rapid reporting is an invaluable tool in combating the damage caused by extreme weather. The ability to receive and respond to inspection data quickly can mean the difference between getting a system back up and running quickly and losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.

While proper installation and maintenance can largely prevent complete destruction of modules, extreme weather also causes damage that is harder to spot. PVEL reports that in cases where less than 5% of the panels were visibly damaged by hail or strong winds, it was found that up to 100% of the modules had micro-cracks. Global Sustainable Energy Solutions estimates a loss of approximately 2.5% for modules where microcracks do not isolate part of the cell, and even greater losses for modules where parts of the cell are isolated. In addition, micro-cracks can lead to the formation of hot spots. If this option is not enabled, these issues can have a significant impact on a site’s bottom line, and therefore revenue. In other words, an immediate and thorough inspection is required to ensure that the system is working properly despite the absence of any obvious visible damage.

Solar panels damaged by hail show visible damage as well as likely micro-cracks. Source: NREL

As with any response to a natural disaster, speed is key. The air inspection is excellent in this regard. Drone-based air inspection methods offer fast turnaround times, comprehensive inspection results, and flexible scheduling options, giving O&M providers the speed and adaptability needed to quickly assess and repair damaged modules in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

The environmental consequences of extreme weather and the extent of the damage caused make traditional field walk inspections impossible. Flooding, fallen branches, and other debris often make it difficult to traverse a site effectively on foot, and field technicians typically only test a sample of 10-25% of a site’s modules when operating in ideal conditions. Without the help of the air inspection, it is nearly impossible for field technicians to inspect an entire site in a reasonable amount of time. Other inspection methods, such as fixed-wing aircraft inspection, allow remote access to the site, but must be planned weeks in advance, making it unsuitable for disaster relief.

Air inspection offers a clean solution to these problems. With a drone equipped with thermal imaging cameras, a full and accurate inspection can be carried out immediately after extreme weather conditions. Dirt, flooding, and other issues that prevent field technicians from walking to a construction site have little or no effect on the air inspection. As long as the weather conditions are suitable, an inspection can be carried out the following day after a disaster. The air inspection is almost 10 times faster than traditional walking methods, so every single module in the system can be inspected. This gives the operator a more complete picture of system performance and the overall extent of any damage that can be reported if necessary within hours of the inspection.

Sample report card with faulty modules that can be created within hours of the inspection. Source: Aerospec Technologies

As we continue to observe patterns of increasingly extreme weather conditions that are likely due to climate change, O&M providers and asset managers will be more likely to respond to damage caused by these events. In such cases – especially when solar becomes an integral part of the global energy supply – a quick and informed response is of crucial importance. Air inspection offers unprecedented speed and accuracy after catastrophic weather conditions that can be critical to the operation of PV systems.

If you are interested in how air inspection can be implemented into your civil protection plan, contact us at to learn more or to schedule a demo today.

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