SA Water is believed to be the first water utility to deploy drones to inspect its extensive solar arrays which total 367,769 PV panels across 33 locations.
The government-owned water utility has partnered with English solar inspection and data analysis company, Above, which says it uses thermographic drone inspections detect various module problems like faulty junction boxes, wiring issues, string issues, and Potentially Induced Degradation (PID).
SA Water will use drone-mounted infrared and high-definition cameras collect video data about its solar plants’ modules. Above says its cloud-based platform, SolarGain, then digests the data and distills 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,” Above said in a statement.
Historically one of South Australia’s largest electricity consumers (in FY2019-20 it spent $86 million on electricity expenses), SA Water has spent the last four years in a concerted journey towards renewable generation. Its invested $300 million on its solar project, the Zero Cost Energy Future initiative, which was completed in May following the installation of 367,769 PV panels.
SA Water is targeting a renewable generation capacity of 242 GWh of energy per annum, with the utility noting its initiative also involves around 34 MWh of energy storage. The water utility’s aim is to get to $0 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 since the partnership was only announced on Tuesday, but the utility’s Senior Manager of its Zero Cost Energy Future Initiative, Nicola Murphy, said the drone technology has proved to be a useful tool in sustainable asset management.
“We’re proud to be at the forefront in leading a solar project not often seen on such a large scale in the water industry, and it is important that we continue to embrace innovation and new technology such to achieve our project outcomes to benefit our customers and business,” Murphy said.
CEO of Above, Will Hitchcock, says the English company has been operating in Australia for the past three years, and 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,” Above’s statement read.
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