With high paced increase in the generation of clean energy through wind turbines, the need for routine inspection of the blades and turbines has increased dramatically. Since, wind turbines are mostly installed at remote locations and are naturally mounted on very tall towers, the routine inspection amounts to a significant portion of operating costs. A recent study, “Global Wind Turbine Inspection Drones Market 2017-2021” has shown a compound annual growth rate of approximately 13 % between 2017 and 2021 (CISION, 2017)
These inspection drones are mounted with high tech inspection tools, such as, high definition camera, thermal imaging, infra-red imaging, electric field sensing, etc. Recent technological advancements and miniature designs of such tools has guaranteed these drones a promising proportion in this application. Traditionally, engineers and inspectors had to use binoculars to take observations from the ground, but at a distance of 400 to 500 feet, it is very hard to catch the minute defects. The only other option is to scale the turbine, which comes with high costs, time and risks as high as fatality.
Advantages of Using Drones for Wind Turbine Inspection
Drone assisted wind turbine inspection benefits its users in several ways.
- The inspection time is reduced to as low as 3 to 4 times, when compared to scaling a wind turbine for inspection.
- The captured high definition images and videos are kept as record and used for analysis of different behaviors of deterioration, corrosion, fatigue, stresses and other relevant parameters.
- Infra-red and thermal imaging helps in catching defects that a naked human eye would never catch and thus, helps in identifying and rectification of defects with time in hand.
- Use of drones for inspection drastically reduces the risk involved and the fatality rate.
- Modern drones with high tech gyroscopes are capable of easily maintaining position under harsh weathers, such as high winds, rain, high temperatures, etc, and therefore, provide you un-interrupted inspection. Traditionally, inspection activity is to be halted even if there is a slight chance of bad weather in the region. This in turn results in saving more time.
- Wind turbine operating cost is significantly lowered, by reduction of man hours consumed, reduction of down time and high labor costs involved.
- Down time and time required for related maintenance activities is significantly reduced, due to early and accurate identification of problematic parts.
An estimated quantity of over 900,000 wind turbines installed on the globe ensures a good scope for drone assisted wind turbine inspection. The above mentioned benefits of their use have the potential to radicalize this field of work (KDE Direct, 2016).
Despite of above mentioned benefits, vendors providing Wind Turbine Inspection Services with the help of drones will face hurdles due to increase in regulatory requirements for use of UAVs. With an increase of UAV use in several spheres of life, governments of many countries are bringing about strict regulatory requirements, certificate qualifications and licenses to curtail misuse of UAVs.
To conclude it can be easily said that, despite of regulatory hurdles that, vendors providing Drone Assisted Wind Turbine Inspection will face, the benefits, overwhelmingly outweigh them and it is predicted that, in 2024, this industry will be of worth over dollar 6 billion.
CISION (2017). Global Wind Turbine Inspection Drones Market 2017-2021 – Increased Focus on Sustainability and Environmental Conservation. Research and Markets. Available from: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/global-wind-turbine-inspection-drones-market-2017-2021—increased-focus-on-sustainability-and-environmental-conservation-300483229.html [Accessed On: 25 September 2017]
KDE Direct (2016). The Growth of Drone Wind Turbine Inspections.Available from: https://www.kdedirect.com/blogs/news/88753411-the-growth-of-drone-wind-turbine-inspections [Accessed On: 25 September 2017]