Drones to Play Greater Role in Wind Turbine Inspections
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), commonly called “drones”, will play a greater role in wind turbineinspections according to a report recently published by Navigant Research. The report covers the 2015 – 2024 timeframe, a window in which drones are expected to play a strong supplementary role to current inspection techniques, including those used from the ground via binoculars of telephoto camera lenses, or up close by inspectors using abseiling rope access techniques.
At the start of 2015 there were about 268,550 commercial-scale wind turbines installed globally, totaling 327,381 MW of capacity. This amounts to more than 805,000 blades that must be inspected annually, not to mention the hundreds of thousands more blades expected to begin service in the coming years. Blades must be inspected with greater frequency in the first year of service, and they wear out over time as they develop chips and cracks. Early deterioration can reduce energy production potential; when left unchecked, such deterioration can cause total blade collapse.
According to the report, inspections conducted using commercial-grade drones flown by professional operators can provide higher-resolution results than ground observation alone, while costing less and presenting fewer risks to inspectors. The report makes clear that this use of drones will not entirely supplant more traditional techniques, but will serve a supplementary role in inspections of onshore installations, while becoming standard for inspections ofoffshore installations.
The evolution of drones to include multiple rotors for stability in wind, longer battery life for extended use, and sharper optics for more detailed observation has made the technology more useful in the context of turbine inspections. Noted in the report is the increasingly important role played by data analysis systems for automated photo analysis across entire fleets of turbine blades.