Drones help solar energy companies improve productivity and shorten design cycles

Leading solar companies are transitioning to drones for surveying, inspection, and design

In the booming solar industry, efficiency is crucial to a company's success. Whether installing solar panels, inspecting and repairing large arrays, or surveying land for solar farm prospecting, drone photos, maps, and 3D models can improve productivity and accelerate design cycles.


The latest drone technology — like aerial mapping, thermal imaging, digital terrain modeling, and automated roof measurement — provides a rich set of data to streamline workflows and generate real-time insights. High-resolution drone maps far surpass imagery gathered by satellite or manned aircraft in accuracy, accessibility, and cost.

With results like this, it's no surprise that solar builders, inspectors, and surveyors are all turning to drones and DroneDeploy. There are several major ways companies can start putting drones to work in the solar industry right now.

To gather topographical information for a prospective site of a future solar farm, companies have traditionally had two options: rely on publicly available data or conduct new ground surveys, neither of which are ideal for large-scale projects like solar farms. Now, thanks to DroneDeploy, there is a new solution: a contour map generated with DroneDeploy during a land survey.

In the competitive world of solar farm prospecting, it's challenging to generate purchase bids quickly. Traditional land surveys can take weeks. By surveying land and creating contour maps and digital terrain models with drones, companies can cut this process down to a few days. The result: faster turnaround times and a leg up on the competition.

Solar industry giant SunPower uses DroneDeploy to map solar farms and manage a growing team of UAV operators around the world. "Having a workflow to get your data out in a timely manner is key to success," says  Kingsley Chen, SunPower UAV Operations Coordinator.

Drones powered by 3D mapping software like DroneDeploy can reduce the design cycle of solar energy projects by as much as 70%, and increase team productivity along the way.

Surveying a roof usually requires solar companies to send out surveyors to gather manual tape measurements, meaning they have to clamber across rooftops for about 2 to 3 hours. Drones capture measurements from the safety of the ground. Capable of flying close to any site, drones deliver precise measurements consistently and help surveyors generate accurate 3D models for further inspection.

After the drone finishes its flight — which typically takes 15 minutes — surveyors can review all measurements from their desks before producing reports and export the data into design software.

Albert De Sousa, iSolara Operation Manager, says: "With drones, we save weeks on the turnaround time from initial design to deployable design."

In addition, solar panels often overheat, go offline, or require maintenance due to excess dust, scratches or mechanical deficiencies. It can take days — or even weeks — to inspect large solar farms from the ground.

Drones can spot issues from the sky in minutes and help teams pinpoint problem areas and fast-track repairs. They can improve a team's efficiency on site by conducting drone-based thermal inspections with Thermal Live Map, which allows companies to generate thermal maps in real time and quickly detect broken photocells faster than ever before, so they can keep their solar operation running at peak efficiency.

As drone use continues to increase in the solar industry — for surveying, design, inspection, and more — so too does the potential that solar energy will become a primary source of all electricity in the United States and the rest of the world.

For more information, visit www.dronedeploy.com.

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