The DJI Dock can revolutionize the utility industry. Learn how this drone in a box increases efficiency and ROI for solar panel inspections, and how teams are conducting remote, automated operations on the power grid to replace manual inspections and improve safety.
The DJI Dock can revolutionize the utility industry, increasing inspection efficiency and significantly improving return on investment.
In a presentation, Freda Peng, Global Solutions Engineering Director of DJI Enterprise, demonstrated the benefits of using the Dock for solar panel and power grid operations.
Using DJI’s drone-in-a-box system would allow at least 12 inspections per year on a 100 MW solar farm, compared to only two inspections per year using manual and time-consuming methods, saving more than doubled.
In China, automating operations with the DJI Dock is also helping remote personnel collect data from substation sites 60 km away, saving personnel from having to conduct manual inspections in temperatures as low as -20°C.
Elsewhere, teams involved in the first inspection of a solar installation in North America with the DJI Dock have described the technology as the future of solar site inspections.
DroneDubai is a DJI Dock partner and will help organizations integrate the Dock into their workflows, including installation, training and lifetime support.
This blog looks at how the DJI Dock can help the utility sector.
DJI Dock for solar inspections
Drones are increasingly being used in the solar industry to aid every stage of a plant’s lifecycle, from planning to maintenance, by helping to collect data quickly, efficiently and safely. For more details, read our blog on drones for solar panel inspections.
But the drone revolution is ushering in a new era of automated and easily repeatable inspections, further elevating UAS inspections of solar panels.
Particularly suited to inspection missions, the DJI Dock M30 series drone features a powerful array of cameras to collect comprehensive solar panel data, such as the 12MP wide (visual) camera and 48MP zoom camera with maximum hybrid zoom of 200x.
Meanwhile, the M30T (Dock version) model is also equipped with a 640 x 512 thermal camera, which can detect problems such as hot spots in cells, panels or strings.
Missions can be planned and scheduled, and data centralized, using software like DJI FlightHub 2, or third-party solutions like FlytNow.
The potential to increase ROI in the solar energy industry was demonstrated during a test scenario by DJI, which showed how the Dock can be more beneficial than manual inspections and no inspections, for monitoring a solar system to maximize on-site energy production.
Data was based on a 100 MW plant.
Scenario 1: no inspection
A lack of inspections could lead to a reduction in energy production, which could cost up to $140,000 a year (equivalent to around £113,575).
This is because undetected failures or damages could lead to equipment failures or even safety risks.
Scenario 2: Manual inspections
Manual inspections (service team roaming the site) could take two people five hours to inspect 1MW. It would take about 65 days to cover the entire 100MW site.
In addition, many solar companies prefer to inspect the site twice a year, which could lead to an estimated annual cost of around US$120,000 (equivalent to around £97,350).
Also, manual inspections can be prone to human error and money could be lost due to problems occurring between the two inspections.
Scenario 3: Automated inspections based on Drone-in-a-Box
The DJI Dock hardware and setup, plus third-party analytics and operating software, would cost around US$45,000 (equivalent to around £36,500).
While this may seem like a significant initial investment, it actually offers long-term benefits in terms of increased efficiency, accuracy and safety.
For example, using a drone in a box can help teams survey the site at least 12 times a year.
This means that the system can provide regular and timely feedback on the status of the PV system, allowing you to take proactive measures.
Case Study: SNEGrid Takes Advantage of the DJI Dock
One of DJI’s partners, SNEGrid, in China is able to process drone images with AI analysis and create reports.
This not only saves time and effort, but also enables predictive maintenance and optimizes performance.
SNEGrid is also working on a solution to integrate a DJI Dock with its inverter system, so that whenever the inverter detects an error, the drone flies to the corresponding location and inspects nearby panels.
Freda said, “This is another good example of how autonomous drones can be a piece of the Internet of Things (IOT) network and create synergy with other smart devices.”
For example, data collected by drones can be integrated with weather forecasts, energy demand forecasts and other relevant information to optimize the overall energy management system.
This would allow for real-time monitoring and control of the PV system, as well as continuous communication between the different components.
Conducted the first inspection of a DJI Dock solar park in North America
Enel Green Power, a multinational electricity and gas company, has conducted the first inspection of a utility-scale solar park in North America with the DJI Dock.
The major inspection took place at a 181 MWdc solar site in Texas, demonstrating the Dock’s ability to facilitate large-scale site inspections.
William Badnaruk, head of industrial risk and cross-cutting technology improvement at Enel North America, said: “We believe this technology represents the future of solar site inspections, because it allows us to discover problems and inefficiencies faster, thus reducing our expenses. operations and improving production at a faster rate”.
This image shows the DJI Dock control interface through the DJI FlightHub 2, including thermal information gathered with the M30T’s thermal sensor and the drone’s flight path.
Drone-in-a-box inspections help identify and fix underperforming equipment faster, which cost the solar industry billions of pounds in lost revenue in 2022.
Speeding up inspections and repairs reduces safety and fire risks, lowers costs for utilities and facility owners, and increases revenues.
Furthermore, thanks to AI-directed and automated flights, drone-in-a-box technology ensures that electricity production reaches its full potential, eliminating waste in the energy value chain, ensuring a smoother flow reliable supply of clean renewable energy and ultimately promoting American energy security.
Grant Hostika, head of Enterprise Solutions Engineering for DJI for North America, said: “There are many operational considerations, such as pilot access to the site, data download and flight planning on site, which are simplified with the DJI Dock.
“The DJI Dock automates operations and enables repeatable methods of data collection, which we believe will change the face of solar inspections.”
Raptor Maps, a leading provider of solar asset management software solutions, built the mission planning software needed to direct the M30T drone to conduct the inspection.
Power Grid Inspections with DJI Dock – A Case Study
The DJI Dock also has the potential to revolutionize power grid inspections.
In Jilin, a city in northeastern China, Jilin National Grid’s power line inspection teams are responsible for restoring power after snowstorms.
However, with winter lasting six months and temperatures dropping to -20°C, teams are prone to frostbite and snow blindness, posing significant risks to their safety and effectiveness.
To address these challenges, the DJI Dock has been employed to conduct inspections that are too dangerous for human operators.
With just a few clicks, an operator at the Operations and Maintenance Center, located 60 km away from the Dock, can remotely select a Dock device and conduct immediate inspections of substations and trunk lines.
DJI Dock for Utility Inspections: Executive Summary
With the ability to conduct automated, scheduled, and remote operations, the DJI Dock can bring significant benefits to the utility sector.
While these types of operations are currently limited in the UK, due to the adolescent stage development of BVLOS, existing ROI scenario tests and case studies demonstrate the potential of the DJI Dock.
And there is still an opportunity (in the UK) for organizations to start integrating the Dock into their workflows – flying VLOS and using the Dock drone software and benefits – with the aim of getting BVLOS operations in future to unlock the true potential of this drone-in-a-box solution.