Nikhil Vadhavkar is co-founder and CEO of Raptor Maps, which, covering six continents and 40 countries, provides “advanced analytics, insights and productivity software for the entire solar lifecycle…[to]…”increase performance, reduce risk and lift ROI.” Over the past four years, Raptor Maps has produced an annual “Global Solar Inspection Report,” with the 2022 version finding 2.63% of power affected across 20 gigawatts and 66 million modules.
Q: How does the report come together?
A: We’ll create a standardized digital data model that shows where every solar panel is in relation to all the other equipment. With UAS, we can get an auditable condition assessment of what is happening on these components. The global report takes all our findings from the past year and that enables us to pull out very important trends for the industry.
Q: Per the report, solar assets are becoming more anomalous each year. Why does that matter?
A: The point of the report is to highlight where these issues are occurring: with components, how they’re built or managed, Mother Nature, degradation. Even a little bit of decrease in performance—all these pennies add up to hundreds of millions of dollars over the lifetime of these assets.
Q: What major anomaly areas have you identified, and what’s the response?
A: The No. 1 issue is string outage–the good thing is that it might be a single point failure that can be addressed by a technician. Other things that give you a lot of bang for your buck are inverter, combiner and tracker issues, and then within the modules, or the solar panels themselves. Internally, we have a huge slideshow—I think we call it “Raptor Safari”—where we’ll see any animal you can imagine, either directly on the panels or between them. We’ve seen owners, operators and maintenance companies becoming more and more sophisticated in their level of inspection and what they’re able to detect. A lot of that is due to advances in unmanned technology, and also in training and protocols. These trends show where we can be increasing return, either increasing the amount of power they can produce or making it more efficient to go and repair them. We’re keeping the solar industry at maximum efficiency, meaning that the entire asset category is more investable.
Q: How can UAS and sensors provide benchmarks, insights and solutions?
A: Over the past few years, unmanned systems have enabled us to be safer, cover more ground, get more granular. We have a step change in the data we’re getting from aerial inspection. By creating this digital twin or this data model, we can combine what we’re seeing with aerial inspection performance data and asset information from the ground. Right now, our customers can scan every single solar panel into our data model and link it back to how that module tested in the factory. Both Raptor Maps and our customers can do data science and say, “Did I have a bad batch, or is this degrading over time?”
Q: And going forward?
A: To meet our climate goals, we’ve only built 10% of what we actually need to build for solar. We’re just scratching the surface today of what can be done with robotics. All these different robotic systems are talking to each other, and you start to think about things like automated manufacturing, or automated installation on site. At the end of the day, it comes down to increasing the power production, reducing the operational cost and very, very importantly, reducing the risks.
To check out the report, go to: https://raptormaps.com/2022-global-solar-inspection-report/
Photo courtesy of Raptor Maps.