Wind farming is an efficient method of harvesting alternative energy that is seeing rapid adoption across the globe. A reported 270,000 wind turbines are being operated globally, with more being installed each week. In the US alone, wind-generated power has already surpassed 75GW, enough to power hundreds of thousands of homes.
Like any machine, wind turbines require maintenance. Exposure to the elements can cause the blades on each turbine to wear out and damage the rotation mechanisms. Deterioration of the turbines reduces the energy collection in its early stages, but can quickly progress to full blade collapse if not dealt with in a timely manner. The issue with providing maintenance to wind farms is manpower.
Most wind farms contain a large number of wind turbines, sometimes several hundred. These turbines are massive in size. For example, a widely used model called the GE 1.5-megawatt consists of 116-foot blades atop a 212-foot tower for a total height of 328 feet. The cost of hiring a team to climb each of the massive structures to perform checks and maintenance can be quite high. In addition, performing these checks is very dangerous. Wind turbines are large, high voltage machines and the risk of injury or death from shock or a fall is high.
Inspection Solutions using UAV
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) equipped with the correct equipment can be used instead of people to map each structure and identify problems quickly and efficiently. One effective method is to integrate a LiDAR unit, such as the Velodyne Puck Lite™, onto a UAV.
The Puck Lite’s high rate of 3D, real time data capture is the perfect sensor for mapping wind turbines. Combined with a high-resolution camera, a UAV-mounted LiDAR unit would be able to completely scan a turbine in as little as ten minutes. The scan would be read by software to render the 3D map, which can then be used to identify potential problems.
SkySpecs, a drone inspection provider, has been working on developing a top-of-the line inspection technology that addresses the issue of wind turbine maintenance. SkySpecs combines sensors, such as our Puck Lite, with cameras and their own software to provide a complete inspection in as little as 15 minutes. The onboard software is also able to use the LiDAR unit to map the area and develop a repeatable flight path to continue scanning the entire wind farm, if that is what the owner requires. Once the scans are complete, a team can be sent out to each turbine that needs repair already equipped with the proper tools and parts, saving time and reducing the amount of climbing required.