Solar Panel Inspection Employs Drone, AI, Automatic Reporting (1)

Mosaic abnormalities caused by lightning can be detected

2019/07/24 18:13
Shinichi Kato, Nikkei BP Intelligence Group, CleanTech Labo
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NEC Networks & System Integration Corp (NESIC), a system integrator belonging to the NEC Group, began to offer solar panel inspection services using drones (unmanned compact aircraft) on June 24, 2019 (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Consistently supports solar panel inspection using drones (source: NESIC)

NESIC has been engaged in system integration and O&M (operation and maintenance) services targeting a wide range of fields, including communication and broadcasting infrastructures, railways and expressways in Japan and abroad, as well as electric vehicle (EV) charging systems in recent years.

The company also offers consistent one-stop services from EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) services to O&M services targeting mega (large-scale) solar power plants. The company constructed 24 mega solar power plants including those under construction with a total output of about 193MW in Japan (Related article 1: X-Elio to Set Up 62MW of Solar Plants in Miyagi, Related article 2: Sonnedix Begins Construction of 46.6MW Solar Plant in Iwate)

The business of solar panel inspection services using drones was started responding to a request from the division that offers EPC and O&M services. The company received an informal order for O&M services from a mega solar power plant featuring an output of several tens of MW in the Tohoku region, to which the company offered the EPC services. It was unrealistic to include inspection of a huge number of solar panels by walking around the mountain site and using portable infrared cameras in the O&M plan.

Under such situation, the division in charge of EPC and O&M paid attention to the knowhow of the division that is already involved in the drone business. NESIC started the business of consistently supporting the utilization of drones by the industrial sector in 2015. The services include selection, procurement and sale of drones according to the field that uses them and conditions of the areas where they fly, education and training to ensure safe operation of drones, inspection and repair of drones, as well as flying of drones, collection and processing of data and analysis of the collected data.

The company also looked for a method to automate the process of analyzing thermal distribution images shot from the sky using drones by taking advantage of the knowhow on artificial intelligence (AI) of companies of the NEC Group. NEC develops AI technologies under the name "NEC the WISE." One of the divisions of NESIC has been engaged in the AI business in collaboration with the AI division of NEC, and the company thought of using the knowhow.