How to get a true pic­ture of faulty so­lar pan­els

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - MAINTENANCE MATTERS -

Flir Tau core helps iden­tify anom­alies in so­lar plants.

It is a com­pact, light­weight ther­mal imag­ing core that can be mounted un­der un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles (UAVs), also known as drones. The unit can be used to in­spect pho­to­voltaic (PV) cells in so­lar plants at hard-to-get-to lo­ca­tions.

“If you look at imag­ing per­for­mance, size, weight and en­ergy con­sump­tion Tau is the per­fect tool to mount un­der­neath a UAV,” says An­to­nio D’Ar­ge­nio’s of Ital­ian firm Panoptes.

He started to work with small drones at the end of 2009 to col­lect aerial geo-data us­ing con­sumer cam­eras. But af­ter a short time felt the need for cam­eras and ther­mal de­tec­tors that are es­pe­cially de­signed for small drones.

“There­fore, we de­signed Panoptes, a fam­ily of multi-sen­sor mod­ules fea­tur­ing Tau and cou­pled with soft­ware to be used with small UAVs,” he says.

The first multi-sen­sor that was de­signed is the mini-Thermo (mT), a small and com­pact multi-sen­sor plat­form. It is equipped with a ther­mal imag­ing cam­era and a CCTV cam­era.

The mT-Panoptes is de­signed to be mounted un­der­neath UAVs that are in­spect­ing pho­to­voltaic cells in so­lar plants.

“In a so­lar plant, anom­alies in pho­to­voltaic cells and mod­ules can cause a re­duced ef­fi­ciency of the en­tire sys­tem,” says An­to­nio. “Pe­ri­odic pre­ven­tive main­te­nance in­spec­tions are aimed at lo­cat­ing mal­func­tions.

“A fast and easy way to find anom­alies in pho­to­voltaic cells is us­ing a ther­mal cam­era that cre­ates a crisp im­age based on sub­tle tem­per­a­ture dif­fer­ences, and makes tem­per­a­ture dif­fer­ences vis­i­ble. These tem­per­a­ture dif­fer­ences be­tween com­po­nents can be an in­di­ca­tion that there are mal­func­tions.”

Dur­ing f lights, both ther­mal and HD video are recorded by a two-chan­nel mini DVR. Data is also trans­mit­ted in real time to the ground.

The ther­mal cam­era is used to find anom­alies in so­lar pan­els and the vis­i­ble cam­era can be used as a ref­er­ence against the ther­mal im­age – so oper­a­tors un­der­stand if ther­mal anom­alies are re­lated to faults in mod­ules or from ex­ter­nal fac­tors such as shad­ows.

The mT Panoptes multi-sen­sor can be used on UAVs with low load ca­pac­ity (<250 g). It in­te­grates a Flir Tau ther­mal imag­ing core that pro­duces im­ages of 640 x 512 pix­els on which the small­est of de­tails can be seen. At the same time it is equipped with a 720p video cam­era.

“Our So­lar In­spec­tor soft­ware of­fers an in­tu­itive en­vi­ron­ment for both oper­a­tion in the field and for fur­ther anal­y­sis af­ter­wards,” says An­to­nio. “The mTPanoptes can be bun­dled with a tablet PC run­ning Win­dows 8 Pro soft­ware.

“We have cho­sen Flir Tau be­cause it is the per­fect core to be in­te­grated into the mT-Panoptes,” says An­to­nio. “No ther­mal imag­ing core is so com­pact and light­weight. It also de­liv­ers ex­cel­lent qual­ity ther­mal im­ages.

“Tau also has an ex­tremely low power con­sump­tion, which is im­por­tant since the mT-Panoptes needs to op­er­ate on bat­ter­ies.”

The Tau ther­mal imag­ing core de­tects tem­per­a­ture dif­fer­ences of 50mK. Its size (44.5 x 44.5 x 30.0 mm), low weight (72 grams) and low power con­sump­tion (900 mW ) make it the ideal core for mount­ing un­der a UAV for any ap­pli­ca­tion.­quiry #D131228

A drone fit­ted with (insert) a Panoptes light­weight cam­era fit­ted with a Tau ther­mal imag­ing core­from Flir. It is used to de­tect ‘dead’ ar­eas in hard to reach so­lar pan­els. Pho­tos / sup­plied

The white ar­eas shown above in the red cir­cle are what dead cells look like us­ing the Tau sen­sor. Shown right is what looks like a faulty so­lar panel, but is in fact a cooler area cre­ated by a shadow cast by a nearby ob­ject.

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