Drones to replace human inspection of wind assets?

Drones are gathering a lot of interest for their use in wind turbine inspection. Some companies state that they have been able to reduce inspection time by 50% and inspection cost by 80%

 

It is easy to see why such nimble drones are apt for predictive and preventive management of wind assets. They can easily access remote locations, nooks and crannies.

Industry experts have seen this coming. Ever since civil and commercial use of drones got legalized in the US (2016), almost 80-90% of wind power industry forerunners in the United States have embraced the use of drones for wind turbine inspection big time.

With regular drone inspection of wind turbines, many companies have reduced downtime by 85%

It provides a safer and more efficient alternative than using labour to collect data in order to make quality decisions. The personnel’s safety is not on the line. We can also do away with the expensive ladders or scaffolding and rule out any chances of fall.

Drones can also cover larger areas in lesser time.

 

Equipped with the right technology, drones are capable of thermal and optical (capturing images) inspection at once.

In fact, a drone can on average inspect a wind turbine blade in approximately 10 minutes and all three blades in around 40 minutes.

Traditionally such a full inspection would have required a partial or full shut down which would have directly affected businesses.

In short, the use of drones for wind asset inspections can,

  • Reduce Efficiency Losses.
  • Reduce Downtime
  • Reduce Catastrophic Failure Rate.
  • Reduce Repair Costs.
Drones and the European Wind Power Sectors

In the EU alone, drones are estimated to capture a €100,000M market by 2025. And many SMEs and MNCs are seeing business opportunities here.

A Spanish SME, DiagnóstiQA is working with the help of the EU-funded EuRoC project, the Digital Innovation Hubs of the University of Zagreb (UNIZG-FER) and the University of Dubrovnik (UNIDU) to develop a bolster better visual inspection by drones. Their studies are all about teleoperation drones more autonomously. Spanish MNC Iberdrola has been tapping into the potential of drones for inspection for their largest wind farm (one of the largest in the world).

Drone inspection of Wind Turbine, picture courtesy: https://www.flyability.com/

Drone inspection of Wind Turbine, picture courtesy: https://www.flyability.com/

 

Danish power company Ørsted tested the Elios 2 from Flyability for an offshore wind turbine inspection and found that it helped them inspect 40% more of the turbine’s blade, improve safety, and cut the time needed for the inspection in half.

Internal wind turbine blade inspections typically require an inspector to crawl into a blade to collect visual data. The Elios 2 eliminated this need, allowing inspectors to remain safely outside of the blade, cutting the time needed to collect visual data by half.

Recently, a Santa Monica based DroneBase closed in on its Series C funding of $12.5 million. Their aerial data management platform plans to use their 80,000 drone pilots in over 70 countries to be deployed for wind assets management. Giving the industry an idea at which it will grow.

Drones’ challenge in this sector

First, let’s take in the sheer height of a wind turbine – approximately 800 ft.

A drone pilot would have to look straight up and possibly be blinded by the sun when operating drones for inspection. Since most of the wind turbines are naturally in high wind areas, it is usually difficult for human pilots to control their drones. Such conditions are better for Teleoperated drones would be more suitable for such use cases.

To get the picture of the flat surface of the blade, for instance, the drone has to consider environmental constraints, turbulence and vortex shedding.

It also comes down to geography. Wind farms are located in unique terrains and are meant to survive the heights of summers, icy cold winters, dust-ridden places, highly saline beach posts, or even magnetic micro-dust-filled places like the Hawaiian volcanic mountain wind farm. Weatherproofed drones seem to be the need of the hour.

Makes one wonder, can the drones help completely do away with the physical inspection of wind turbines?

To get the full picture you need to hop on to our much anticipated “2nd Annual Onshore O&M” virtual conference, coming up on 14,15 September. Block your seat today in order to interact one-on-one with the right people in this industry.