How drones are proving to be a “Game changer” in Renewable Energy Sector?

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“Drones- Providing Bird’s-eye view for all”, but which sectors are employing drone-services in India? How can drones be specifically used in solar industry ? We will try to address these questions below. But before diving in, let’s just quicky have an overview about history of UAV’s.

A brief history about UAV’s: 

The use of Unmanned Aerial vehicles (UAV’s) can be traced back to early 19th century when they were solely used for military purposes.  The first pilotless aerial vehicle was developed in January 1918 during the First World War by the US Army which was named “Kettering Bug”. It was an unmanned aerial torpedo which could travel at a speed of 80 kmph and was capable of striking ground targets up to 121 kilometers from its launch point.  

Radioplane OQ-2, the remote-controlled aircraft developed by Reginald Denny during World War II actually became the first mass-produced UAV product in the U.S. Nearly 15,000 drones were manufactured for the army during the war. 

During the 1999 Kargil war with Pakistan, India first used military drones supplied by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) named IAI Heron and Searcher drones for reconnaissance. Later, India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) launched Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) program, aimed at developing it’s own UAV’s likes of which are  DRDO Lakshya,  DRDO Nishant and  DRDO Rustom. 

Industries employing drone technology: 

With drones becoming cheaper everyday, and its abundant application across a vast sector, the technology is being employed by several industries such as agricultural, infrastructure, construction, transportation, warehouse and inventory management etc. PwC projects that globally, drone solutions have the high potential to replace $127 billion in current business services and labor costs across multiple industries. One of the major application of drones is in the solar energy sector, and is revolutionizing the way solar plants were traditionally designed. Let’s take a closer look at our next section on using drone services in the Solar Energy market.

Drones application in Solar Industry: 

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Earlier for designing solar plants, the design engineers used to visit the site and take up manual measurement of either the roofs dimension (for residential deployment) or the entire area (in case of utility2D and 3D plots were generated after the initial measurement using tools such as SketchUp and AutoCAD which took a great deal of time and effort. After 3D model preparation, small handheld devices such as Solometric SunEye 210 were employed to perform shadow analysis. Finally, solar potential and financial estimates were calculated manually in order to prepare a pitching report for end-customers. This entire design process even used to take more than a month to complete. 

After the development of sophisticated solar design softwares, the whole design process can be completed well within 30 minutes. The leading softwares in the solar design field are likes of  PVSyst, Helioscope, Aurora Solar, OpenSolar by Nearmap etc. These softwares allow the designers to create designs remotely using satellite images. Other features such as 2D and 3D modeling, shadow analysis, potential estimation, making financial estimates, generation losses are also included in these softwares. The flexibility of creating multiple designs and 3D visualization of the customer’s site, helps in reducing the truck load and raising the sales revenue. 

With the induction of drone technology, high resolution aerial images became more accessible and are now being used in solar design software to model even more accurate designs with precision coming down to a few centimeters. 

To get high-resolution aerial images, you simply need to fly the drone around your Point of Interest (POI) with camera axis inclined at different angles. The images captured are then processed using an appropriate tool to create an Orthomosaic used for design purposes. Drone images can also be used to capture 3-dimensional (X, Y and Z axis) coordinates of multiple points on the surface to create a Point Cloud which renders much more precise 3D models.  In the next section, let us look at few of the leading design softwares and drone service providers and what they offer in the solar design sector. 

Various companies using drones at different phases during solar installation

How drones can be used with TSL design studio in designing phase ?

About Us

We at TSL, are involved in the solar rooftop domain where our AI driven design and sales softwa-re provides the solar design engineers with substantial improvements in their workflow and best solar system design practices possible. Our software offers a one spot solution for all your design exercises from scratch.  

Drone services available on demand

We also provide our end customers with the flexibility of using drones for conducting the site surveys on their demand. Recently, we have designed a solar plant for IIT Mandi campus comprising a total of 96 buildings, spread over an area of 538 acres where we have used locally available drone services for getting high quality aerial images. The entire design was completed in a week and the detailed report for the same can be found here (link). 

Other similar softwares employing drone services for high resolution images

DroneDeploy

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DroneDeploy is a US based company headquartered in San Francisco, California and founded in the year 2013. Since then it has grown multifold and now is the leading cloud based software for commercial drones, making the power of aerial data accessible and productive for everyone.  

Drone Mapping for Solar panel inspection and installation 

The DroneDeploy software can be simply installed in your mobile phone and can generate quick and accurate 3D models using the high quality aerial images captured from drones. The software is compatible with DJI Phantom 4 drones and newer and can control their flight path. The 3D models can be later used by solar designers for designing solar rooftops. The software can also be used to perform real-time field inspection of already installed solar panels on the rooftops. 

Unique Thermal Live Map Feature: 
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The software comes with an inbuilt feature of thermal Live Map which can be used to visualize temperature range variability and generate thermal maps over large areas to identify both the spots not suitable for panel installation and for inspecting the solar panels which are not performing efficiently. 
No separate flight is required for thermal mapping.. The inbuilt feature just needs to be toggled on while the aerial survey in being done.    

Advantage of DroneDeploy over other softwares: 

DroneDeploy gains an upper hand when it comes to solar rooftop design from a simple fact that it uses Aerial images from drone to develop 3D model and perform calculation which is comparatively more accurate than other softwares using image sources like Google maps, Bing maps etc. Clear visualization of obstructions and nearby buildings is possible which sometimes becomes difficult with other imagery sources especially if the design to be performed for some remote areas. Also the drone images are more up-to date as compared to other open sources of imagery.    

Scanifly

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Scanifly is a drone-based, AI-driven software platform for solar development and maintenance. It was founded in the year 2015 by John Novak who previously worked for several solar companies as a design and monitoring specialist. Scanifly introduces automation in the survey and design process, reducing design time and improving the safety of workers, as no on-site measurement is required. 

Work-flow: 
  • Design engineers can upload their drone images on the software. 
  • Create accurate 3D model from the drone images  
  • Design rooftop with efficient panel placement, real-time shade analysis and 3D visualization for the same.  
  • Export site specs, customer proposals, shading reports and CAD layouts. 
 Advantages: 
  • Dynamic shadow renderings that indicate the best and worst locations for solar modules throughout the year. 
  • Allows for processing LiDAR data to render point cloud and further 3D models with centimeter-level accuracy. 
  • This Scanifly app allows for a seamless 3D model export in DroneDeploy to your Scanifly account. 

Nearmap

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Nearmap is an Australian based aerial imagery service which provides high-resolution aerial imagery to businesses operating in the domains such as solar, construction, Engineering, roofing, transportation, utility etc. It covers most part of Australia, US, Canada and New Zealand.

Use case: 

High resolution aerial images are captured via digital cameras mounted on airplanes flying at low altitude. These maps are annually updated and the entire data set is available on cloud platform. Nearmap offers annual subscription as well as long term subscription models to its customers during which they can access the entire data set for their selected region. 

Near Map on Open Solar
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Near map on Open Solar

Open Solar is a design software which uses Nearmap as its image repository. Due to high spatial resolution aerial images provided by Nearmap, the designing becomes more accurate and relevant to real world context. Open Solar provides all the features such as 3D modeling of buildings, shadow analysis, financial estimates, etc which are generally provided by a solar design software with an added advantage of high resolution and up-to-date aerial images. It gives a better visualization of the customer’s property during the design phase about the aesthetics of their rooftop if they decide to go solar. This helps in enhancing sales conversion rate and reducing business cycle. 

Nearmap AI

Nearmap AI comes with two key features: View AI Layers, and AI Parcel Export. There are several AI layers included such as swimming pool, tree overhang, roof material, roof shape, solar panel, construction site and trampoline which can be extracted from the Nearmap data set for the selected region. 

Aurora

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 Aurora Solar is a leading AI based solar design and sales software based out of San Francisco, USA.   

Use case:

Efficient roof modeling from satellite images, panel placement, Shadow analysis validated by NREL*, Simulating energy production, estimation of losses, creating accurate sales proposal with thousands of items (panels, inverters etc) to chose from, comparing different financial mechanism available and finally exporting the files in formats such as CAD layout and SLD. 

Unique Feature of LiDAR Assisted modeling

To enhance the accuracy of the 3D models generated from satellite images by using LiDAR data for design and shading analysis. 

Invitation to collaborate

We are also looking forward to partner with other drone service providers. TSL can consult for enterprises in case they want to evaluate the potential of solar energy for their roof. Our TSL team will be more than happy to provide you with the best possible solution.

“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”  
(~ Thomas A. Edison, 1931) 

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