Renewables, Solar

Improving solar performance through drone testing

PV Lab Australia and Quantified Energy Labs, from Singapore, are partnering to deliver high-volume drone electroluminescence solar inspection services for Australia’s utility-scale solar market.

The Australian-first initiative aims to improve the quality of solar panels installed across the nation. It combines PV Lab’s onsite capability and laboratory services with Quantified Energy Labs’ (QE-Labs) technology platform for automatically guided drone electroluminescence (EL) solutions with matching data analytics.

In May 2023, PV Lab Australia and QE-Labs performed drone EL inspection of approximately 45,000 modules at a utility-scale solar plant. The inspection was part of the end-of-the-defect-liability period (DLP) and prior to handover to the farm owner.

The inspection was the first of its kind in Australia, and the largest globally for a PV plant with an inline fuse system. The drone mapping enabled the identification of defective modules and proactive addressing of performance issues.

“The ability of drone EL mapping to accurately pinpoint problematic modules is a game changer for us,” says the solar plant’s operations and asset manager.

“We can now selectively replace the worst-performing modules wherever they are in the plant. This allows significant improvement of the overall system performance and for us to maximise our energy output.”

Lawrence McIntosh, a partner at PV Lab, says the collaboration will deliver significant savings on photovoltaic inspections.

“This solution allows inspection costs to be reduced up to a factor of 20 times previous costs,” he says. “This makes it viable for us to inspect whole plants as opposed to sampling-based approaches.”

READ MORE: New test verifies quality of Australian solar panels

Testing PV modules after installation and before DLP expiry is a critical step in facilitating handover to site owners. It allows for a baseline of the plant condition to be established, which aids long-term maintenance and can be valuable after a storm event or for general troubleshooting.

“It showcases the effectiveness and potential of the solution to address the needs of solar asset owners,” says Dr Michelle McCann, a partner at PV Lab.

“This collaboration puts PV Lab and QE-Labs at the forefront of efficient and precise testing services of solar installations in Australia.”

Artificial intelligence and quantitative analysis algorithms play a crucial role in the post-data processing phase.

“Our big data processing and visualisation, along with the user-friendly dashboard and PDF reports, enables us to provide valuable insights to our clients,” says Dr Karl Bedrich, chief technology officer at QE-Labs.

“We are thrilled to expand our services to the Australian market in joint effort with PV Lab, following our successful launches in the US, EU, China and other ASEAN countries.”

Autonomous drone testing is safer and more straightforward than traditional manual EL inspection methods. Performing EL inspections at night allows solar plants to continue operation during the daytime.

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