ROCKETFARM SET TO TRANSFORM GLOBAL ENERGY SECTOR

Rocketfarm, a leader in deploying drones for environmental services, has piloted the first survey of a Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) Plant utilising a thermal and RGB (camera) sensor in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province.

In what is the first practical survey of a CSP solar plant on the African continent, and possibly worldwide, the deployment and data secured for the client is a milestone for the renewable energy sector and the drone industry.

What is CSP?

Concentrated Solar Power (CS) thermal systems (CSP) produce electric power by converting the sun’s energy into high-temperature heat using various mirror configurations. In short, the sun’s energy is concentrated by various reflectors, and this concentrated energy is then used to drive a heat engine and drive an electric generator. The plants that utilise this system consists of two parts: one that collects solar energy and converts it to heat, and the other that converts the heat energy to electricity.

A BREAKTHROUGH

Until Rocketfarm’s breakthrough, no professional services’ team had conducted a drone-based survey to detect broken mirrors, defective heat elements and provide an analysis on future performance. In comparison, it’s been possible to survey Photovoltaic (PV) panels for several years and provide practical intelligence for operators, investors and all stakeholders invested in the performance of the solar facility.

THE SECRET SAUCE

The challenge for the RGB sensors has been the reflective nature of the mirrors, which makes it difficult to build and create 3D images via photogrammetry methods. Rocketfarm’s advances have come as a result of Rocketmine’s secret sauce, says project lead Zander Van Pletzen. “Our team has tens of thousands of hours of flight experience;

always deploying the latest technology and research into building new solutions for clients across multiple sectors.” When the opportunity arose to deploy, the team spent weeks brainstorming, building models and applying all their considerable learnings, expertise and tech to provide a world-class and pioneering solution adds Van Pletzen.

BUILDING NEW DATASETS AND ALGORITHMS

The key to creating usable and wish list datasets for the CSP Solar farm stakeholders was to dive deep into code and rewrite the AI detection format. These tasks were significant as there was no existing methodology to retrain the sensors and no framework to interpret the data post-survey.

WHAT WE DID & OUR INVESTMENT

With no existing guide, Rocketfarm’s survey and gathering involved our crew flying a sampling of the site at different angles, heights and speeds to conduct the survey and collect the data. Equipped with a multi-spectrum sensor (RGB & Thermal) provided the team with multiple points of data to analyse.

While flying is the simplest aspect of the mission, the interpretation of the data and analysis for the CSP plants owners

and stakeholders has been a complex and insightful undertaking that will provide longtime benefits in maintenance, profitability and possibly greater uptake of CSP Plants, comments Van Pletzen.

“These plants cost billions to build and by deploying drones, Rocketfarm can show breakages and data for reduced output, which will help improve profitability and relationships between all stakeholders. In all likelihood this breakthrough will alter the investment case for these assets,” he says.

OUTPUTS PROVIDED TO REDUCE COSTS & DRIVE FASTER DECISION MAKING

While the output data remains confidential and client specific at this point; the aerial survey did provide major tangible benefits, which are summarized below:

  • Less time and resources spent on inefficient manual inspections;
  • Improved safety as technician’s no longer have to walk physically through what is a hazardous environment and manually inspect 1000s of mirrors;
  • Early detection of broken mirrors and defective heat elements;
  • Remote virtual inspections and site tours, which simplify management and auditing;
  • The opportunity to predict future performance and income;
  • New data creates more opportunities for investors and owners to leverage due to decreasing costs and ability to predict output and volume

WHY IT MATTERS

CSP solar farms are a necessary component of a country’s future energy mix. In comparison to PV solar installations, the chief benefit of a CSP Plant is that they can store and dispatch energy on-demand, which makes it more comparative with natural gas and geothermal power plants. For large scale energy needs, CSP is a proven technology and has grown from 340 Megawatts in 2005 to 5,500 MW in 2018, with more sites coming online especially in deserts and arid environments.

The relative simplicity, robustness and advantages of CSP Plants means that technologies to improve performance, reduce breakages and improve overall efficiency only makes the development of these large multi-billion-dollar plants more investable compared to direct competitors. Moreover, if we combine Rocketfarm’s outputs for investors and stakeholders matched with the growth in green financing, this breakthrough is transformative for the growth of the renewables sector and the environment.

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