Photovoltaic inspection with our DJI Matrice M30T drone including thermography

Photovoltaics is becoming more and more popular. Large plants can now be found everywhere in the province of Salzburg, whether in Pinzgau, Pongau or Flachgau. Regular inspection and visual inspection of photovoltaic systems is recommended for all sizes. However, especially for larger systems, a simple visual inspection is already associated with a high level of personnel and technical effort. Inspections of photovoltaic systems can be carried out much faster and more efficiently by means of a drone from the air. In addition, the possibilities of thermography also reveal small defects and damage to the solar system that would otherwise remain unnoticed for a long time and could result in greater consequential damage.

Our customer operates a large photovoltaic system in Mittersill in Pinzgau (province of Salzburg) with a total of 500 panels equipped with 360 Wp solar modules. The total output of the plant is around 180 kWp. For the inspection of the solar plant, we used our DJI Matrice M30T drone, which has high-resolution cameras. It thus delivers first-class and meaningful RGB images. In addition, thermographic documentation was desired. The fact that this drone allows the simultaneous creation of RGB images and thermographic images saves a lot of time and money.

Even new installations for photovoltaics can have defects

In total, we were able to create a high-resolution thermal orthophoto with the 200 images taken by our drone, each consisting of two images (RGB and thermography). Subsequently, the use of special software enabled the evaluation of the thermography in a 3D model. The results were very convincing and held a surprise for the customer, as a minor fault in the photovoltaic system was detected during the inspection.

Even if the problems are minor (as in this case), they can grow into major defects without being noticed. In addition, in the case of newer installations, there may be warranty claims against the manufacturer of the photovoltaic system, which should also be asserted in good time.

An inspection of photovoltaic systems is not only useful for older installations, but also directly after the first commissioning. Thermography provides fast and cost-effective reliable results to immediately document possible installation errors or other defects.

Our recommendation for inspection intervals is once a year for larger photovoltaic systems. Smaller systems should be inspected every two to three years at the latest.

Original photo of the photovoltaic modules (single image)

In this original thermographic image, a potential problem can clearly be seen in the center of the image. The brighter areas of the affected modules indicate an irregularity that should definitely be examined more closely.

This single image alone proves how helpful the use of a drone like our DJI Matrice M30T can be. A defect of this type may remain undetected for a long time in a large photovoltaic system like the one in Mittersill in Pinzgau. However, if a major power loss occurs in the entire photovoltaic system first, the repair of the damage can become much more expensive.

In addition, for the enforcement of any warranty claims against the manufacturer or the installation company of the photovoltaic technology, the early documentation by thermography is particularly helpful. Of course, this does not only apply in Salzburg, but everywhere where photovoltaics are installed.

The comparison: RGB image of the identical position

Why simultaneous thermography is so important during an inspection of the photovoltaic system is shown by the comparison between the thermal image and this high-resolution RGB image. While here mainly soiling or mechanical damage (e.g. due to hail, animal excrement, etc.) becomes visible, the thermal irregularity in the system remains invisible in the RGB image.

Thermal problems can have an extremely shortening effect on the lifetime of photovoltaic modules. What many operators don't know: Although direct sunlight is important, photovoltaic systems must not get too warm, as this lowers the efficiency of power generation. After all, only the light is used, not the thermal energy as with solar thermal systems.

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Thermography with radiometric temperature measurement

In addition to the raw data that the thermography of the photovoltaic system provides us with, a precise analysis is of course also possible afterwards. The software we use allows a so-called radiometric temperature measurement. This allows us to reliably measure temperature differences of individual pixels in the image.

When the drone has long since landed again, the evaluation of the RGB and thermographic images with the software begins. The conspicuous spot visible in the image clearly shows the difference. At any comparison position in the non-defective area of the solar system, the temperature at the time of the recording is 27° C. At the potentially defective location, on the other hand, it is 44° C.

In order to prevent this from becoming a major defect, which would mean a loss of power generation with photovoltaics for the customer, early detection by means of a drone is one of the most effective means of prevention.

Why inspection with drone can make your photovoltaic system more efficient

The performance of modules for photovoltaic systems decreases over time. Older systems for photovoltaics no longer produce electricity as efficiently as freshly installed solar modules when new. The service life can be predicted relatively well based on manufacturer and experience values. However, there are factors that can have a severely shortening effect on service life.

In addition to mechanical damage (e.g., from severe weather or animals), thermal defects are a major cause of performance problems with solar systems. If your photovoltaic system is not performing as expected despite ideal operating conditions, you should have the system inspected.

Faster inspection of large and inaccessible installations

With our drone, we can fly over inaccessible and/or very large plants in a short time and produce high-resolution images in the RGB range. The additional added value results from the simultaneous thermography, which reveals problems with the temperature development of the photovoltaic system before they are measurable by a significant drop in overall performance. Such defects are not visible to the naked eye and are difficult to locate in inaccessible places or very large plant areas by personnel on the ground, even with thermal imaging cameras.

The aerial images provide you with a clear overview with clean comparisons between visible light spectrum and thermography. Even small temperature differences can turn into large defects in solar modules. It is important to know that the operating temperature of the photovoltaic system is very important for the efficiency of power generation. Overheated modules deliver much less electricity than they should. In extreme cases, such defects can not only reduce the power, but also cause secondary defects and electrical problems, including the development of fires.

Customized inspection of your photovoltaic installation

The example from the deployment at our customer in Mittersill in Pinzgau (Salzburg) shows how unexpected defects can occur even on relatively new photovoltaic systems. Whether it is a large plant for power generation or a small plant on the roof of a house - as a rule, inspections from the air are not only more efficient, but also considerably safer. Climbing on roofs is only necessary when there is actually a need for repair.

If you want to have your photovoltaic system inspected regularly and with meaningful results, our drones are the right choice. Our experienced drone pilots know exactly what is important when inspecting photovoltaics with and without thermography. For a meaningful offer, simply contact us - we will create a customized service solution for you.

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