Australian utility deploys AI-powered drone tech to monitor PV assets


From pv magazine Australia

SA Water has deployed drones to inspect its extensive fleet of solar arrays, which include 367,769 PV panels across 33 locations.

The state government-owned water utility has partnered with U.K. solar inspection specialist Above, which uses thermographic drone inspections to detect module problems such as faulty junction boxes, wiring issues, string issues, and potential induced degradation (PID).

SA Water will use drone-mounted infrared and high-definition cameras to collect video data about its modules. Above says its SolarGain cloud-based platform will then digest the data and distill it into meaningful information, using computer-vision algorithms and data analytics.

“The software platform enables maintenance teams to locate modules, investigate issues and carry out repairs,” said Above.

Historically one of South Australia’s largest electricity consumers, SA Water has spent the last four years in a concerted journey toward renewable generation. Its invested AUD 300 million ($223.8 million) on its solar project, the Zero Cost Energy Future initiative, which was completed in May following the installation of 367,769 PV panels.

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SA Water is now targeting a renewables generation capacity of 242 GWh of energy per annum. The utility's plans also include around 34 MWh of energy storage. Its aim is to get to eliminate net electricity costs, while also reducing its carbon footprint.

It’s not clear how long SA Water has been employing Above to inspect its solar arrays, but Nicola Murphy, the utility’s senior manager for its Zero Cost Energy Future Initiative, said the drone technology has proven to be a useful tool in sustainable asset management.

Above CEO Will Hitchcock said the company has been operating in Australia for the past three years. He described the partnership with SA Water as a “fantastic opportunity.”

“Investing in digital technologies will enable the utility company to increase solar generation, streamline on-site operational activities and maintain its portfolio of healthy solar plants,” said Above.

Nicola Murphy, SA Water’s senior manager for the Zero Cost Energy Future initiative.
Image: SA Water

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