The Benefits of Using Drones for Inspecting Wind Turbines
Updated: Jun 3
By 2025, renewable energy will become the largest source of electricity worldwide, overtaking coal. It is imperative that wind farm owners maintain their wind turbines at peak efficiency and extend the life of their three-bladed assets to maximize the ROI.
Wind power is expected to contribute almost 30 per cent of all renewable capacity additions through 2025.
The importance of wind turbine inspection
The components of wind turbines are subjected to hail, snow, lightning, rain, salt, and dust on a daily basis. A turbine blade may also be damaged due to factors such as extreme load buckling or manufacturing defects that lead to de-bonding.
During wind turbine inspections, the following defects are often found:
Tower: Crack, damage, paint peeling off, corrosion
Blade: Cracks, peeling paint, damages, deterioration, lightning traces, water penetration
Nacelle: Lightning traces, crack, damage, corrosion, oil splits, paint peeling off
Hub: Skewness, loose connection, damage
The cost of repairing and replacing turbine parts can reach $30,000 per year in the absence of preventive maintenance.
The revenue erosion from lost production days is additional - both when capital components take a long time to arrive and when planned shutdowns are scheduled for manual inspections or ground-based inspections.
Traditionally used methods of wind turbine inspection present challenges
Wind turbine components are typically inspected by two methods. The most widely used method for both inspection and repair is rope access and platforms, and ground-based inspection. A technique in which the blades are inspected with the help of a telephoto lens.
Both methods have their own limitations.
Typically, more than three people are needed on the site for rope access and platforms, which means high labour costs. This method is also time-consuming; technicians can inspect only one or two turbines per day, and since the technicians work at heights, the risk factor and insurance costs are high.
Whereas with the Ground-Based method, since the images are captured from a different angle and in different orientations, there is poor data quality for shadowy areas and fast-moving parts of the blades (like the tip). The angles make it impossible to measure and locate the damages. In order to capture each side of the blade, a camera setup is needed, which is very time-consuming.
Innovation in wind turbine inspection: Drones
Drones have multiple advantages over traditional methods mentioned above, including eliminating the risk for workers, reducing inspection time by 70%, and not having to shut down wind turbines for prolonged periods as with manual inspections.
The use of drones can provide a full site assessment or an inspection of a single wind turbine. A drone equipped with high-performance cameras can inspect a wind turbine without compromising workers or requiring access to the wind turbine.
An inspection of a single wind turbine can typically take anywhere from 3 to 6 hours, with inspectors working at height. The wind-resistant RTK drones, on the other hand, can inspect a turbine in only about 45 minutes. As a result, the entire farm of 15 turbines could be inspected within three days.
High-resolution drone imagery produces better data
In addition to minimizing staff safety risk, drones provide high-resolution images of areas that climbers cannot see or access. Drones can photograph wind turbines from any angle or location, including those that individuals cannot reach.
High-resolution images are taken and uploaded to Hammer Missions, which can then be analyzed to diagnose and identify problems. With Hammer Mission, this data can also be shared with your other stakeholders allowing them to view defects.
A technician's inspection of a wind turbine can only cover what can be seen, leaving room for errors or missing areas of inspection.
Wind farm owners can, without a doubt, reduce efficiency losses and repair costs by using an accurate, up-close view of potential defects and quality data that can be used to generate detailed inspection reports down to the millimetre.
Drones can be launched into the air in minutes to collect both visual and thermal data in a matter of seconds, while technicians stay on the ground, safe.
Drone inspections can maximize energy production and safely deliver clean energy to humanity by performing repeated and consistent preventative inspections.
If you want to learn more about our enterprise solutions, including mission collaboration, flight analytics and more, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to hearing from you.
- The Hammer Team