Drones are proving to be a safer, faster, and more cost-effective way to inspect wind turbines compared to traditional manual methods. Equipped with cameras and sensors, drones can thoroughly examine blades, nacelles, and towers for damage and needed repairs. This article explores how drones are revolutionizing wind turbine inspections through improved data collection, access to difficult areas, and reduced downtime and risks.
Wind energy continues to grow rapidly as a renewable energy source. Wind turbines require regular inspections and maintenance to maximize efficiency, extend equipment lifetime, and ensure optimal performance.
Traditionally, wind turbine inspections involved technicians climbing turbines or using telephoto lenses from the ground. Both approaches have downsides like safety risks, high costs, and limited data quality.
Drones provide a smarter, safer wind turbine inspection solution. Equipped with cameras and sensors, drones can thoroughly inspect turbines in a fraction of the time while eliminating risks to inspectors.
This guide covers everything you need to know about using drones for wind turbine inspections.
The Importance of Wind Turbine Inspections
Regular inspections help wind farm owners identify issues early before they cause equipment failure or performance problems. Inspections look for:
- Cracks, lightning damage, loose bolts on turbines
- Blade defects like erosion, separation, cracks
- Gearbox, bearing, and drivetrain component wear
Without preventative maintenance, repairs can cost over $30,000 annually per turbine. Lost production from downtime also cuts into revenue.
The large size of modern wind turbines makes inspection challenging. Technicians traditionally had to climb 200+ feet or rely on ground-based cameras. Both approaches have downsides.
That’s why drones are transforming wind turbine inspections with huge benefits in safety, speed, data quality, and cost savings.
Challenges With Traditional Inspection Methods
The two traditional options for wind turbine inspection come with their own limitations:
- Safety risks from climbing at height
- Slow process taking hours per turbine
- Limited angles and visibility
- Shutdowns reduce power production
- High labor costs for 3+ technicians
- Poor image quality in shadows and at blade tips
- Can’t accurately locate or measure defects
- Time consuming camera setup for full coverage
- Unable to inspect underside of blades
Drones overcome these challenges while providing close-up HD images from all angles and locations.
Benefits of Using Drones for Inspections
Drone wind turbine inspections offer numerous advantages:
- Improved safety: No need for technicians to work at dangerous heights. Inspections are controlled from the ground.
- Faster inspections: Drones can inspect a turbine in 45 minutes rather than 3-6 hours manually.
- Cost savings: Drones slash labor, equipment, and downtime costs. Inspection expenses can drop 20-25%.
- Better data: High-res images detect tiny defects. Thermal drones identify hot spots indicating problems.
- Close-up access: Drones get full coverage from all angles and reach confined spaces.
- Early defect detection: Catch issues before they require major repairs or reduce performance.
- Regulatory compliance: Ensure wind farms meet all maintenance and inspection policies.
- Increased uptime: Cut downtime from hours to just minutes per turbine.
In summary, drones boost inspector safety while providing more detailed data faster to maximize wind farm productivity.
How Drones Inspect Wind Turbines
Wind turbine inspections involve reviewing the nacelle, tower, blades, bolts, and internal components. Drones complete the process in two phases:
Drone-mounted cameras provide high-resolution exterior images and video. Visual inspectors look for:
- Blade cracks, damage, erosion
- Lightning strike marks
- Peeling paint or corrosion
- Loose or missing bolts
- Gearbox oil leaks
Visual data verifies the physical condition of the turbine. However, some defects lurk beneath the surface. Thermal drones can detect those issues.
Infrared cameras on drones measure surface temperature variations that reveal hidden problems. Warm spots (thermal anomalies) indicate:
- Blade delamination
- Drivetrain component wear
- Electrical issues
- Adhesive failures
- Water ingress
Thermal drones provide inspectors a heat map showing exactly where urgent repairs are needed. This prevents small problems from cascading into major failures.
Best Drones for Wind Turbine Inspections
Selecting the right drone depends on your specific inspection needs. Here are top models used by wind energy companies:
DJI Matrice 300 RTK
- 55 min flight time
- RTK precision navigation
- Robust, weatherproof build
- Swappable camera payloads
- 20 km transmission range
DJI Mavic 3 Enterprise Advanced
- 45 min flight time
- 4K thermal camera
- Obstacle avoidance
- Portable folding design
- RTK positioning
- 38 min flight time
- 6 mile range
- 360° obstacle avoidance
- 100x zoom visual camera
- Autonomous inspection modes
Flyability Elios 3
- Indoor/confined space specialty
- LiDAR collision avoidance
- 30 min flight time
- 3D mapping capabilities
- Water and dustproofing
Pay close attention to flight time, camera resolution, range, obstacle avoidance, and battery life when selecting your wind turbine inspection drone.
Wind Turbine Inspection Applications
Specific ways drones are transforming wind turbine maintenance and inspection include:
- Blade inspections – Visually inspect and thermally map blade surfaces to identify defects
- Bolt inspections – Check that all turbine bolts are properly secured
- Corrosion detection – Identify corrosion or rust
- Lightning strike analysis – Evaluate damage from lightning strikes
- Tower analysis – Verify structural integrity and identify cracks or fatigue
- Drainage inspection – Ensure water flows properly and doesn’t pool
- Remote site inspections – Safely inspect turbines in remote or offshore locations
- Gearbox inspection – Check for leaks and analyze temperatures to prevent breakdowns
- General condition audits – Provide complete overview of turbine physical state
Drones also enable progress monitoring during repairs and can create digital twins of turbines for simulations.
Cost of Drone Inspections for Wind Farm
Drone inspection services typically charge around $300-$500 per turbine. That’s 20-25% cheaper than traditional manual inspections.
The drone itself represents a major investment. Industrial drones cost between $10,000-$30,000 for the airframe, cameras, sensors, battery packs, case, controllers and other accessories.
Software for mission planning, data analysis and reporting also requires an enterprise subscription.
Overall though, reduced downtime and repairs offset the drone costs quickly. Streamlined inspection workflow minimizes lost production days.
Inspecting hundreds of turbines per year adds up, making drones a smart long-term investment.
Jobs in Wind Turbine Inspection
More wind energy companies are hiring remote pilots and data analysts for drone inspections. Job sites list an average salary of $52,792 with top earners making over $100k.
Major companies like Shell, BP, EDF, and Orsted use drones extensively for wind turbine inspections. Drone service providers also require certified remote pilots with an FAA Part 107 license.
In-demand skills include:
- Piloting and operational expertise
- Aerospace, robotics, or electrical engineering backgrounds
- Software and data analytics proficiency
- Wind energy industry knowledge
- Attention to detail and problem-solving
This niche will continue growing as wind power expands. Drone inspectors play a vital role keeping turbines running optimally.
I.D.S. – Industrial Drone Services Company
Drone services provider founded in 2017 in Athens Greece, paired with their client Eunice Energy Group (EEG) – one of the pioneers in the field of renewable energy in Greece – to leverage DJI drone platforms to inspect a wind farm with a total capacity of 34.5MW. .
ABJ deployed its WindVue technology to find both internal and external problems with the WTG blades during winter in Canada. The objective was to understand the effectiveness of WindVue in different temperatures and climates.
Read more: Vestas Wind Turbine Inspection in Canada
What defects can drones detect on wind turbines?
Drones can visually identify cracks, lightning damage, blade erosion, paint peeling, corrosion, and loose or missing bolts. Thermal drones also detect hidden defects like delamination and water ingress.
How long does it take to inspect a wind turbine with a drone?
A thorough wind turbine inspection by drone takes approximately 45 minutes. That’s 4-6 times faster than manual rope-access inspections.
Do drone pilots need special certifications?
Commercial drone pilots require an FAA Part 107 license. Some companies also mandate additional training for flying around wind turbines, offshore sites, and high-voltage equipment.
What sensors do wind turbine inspection drones use?
Visual drones have high-resolution cameras up to 100X zoom. Thermal drones carry infrared cameras to identify heat anomalies. Some models also have LiDAR for collisions avoidance and mapping.
Can drones completely replace manual wind turbine inspections?
Not entirely. Drones currently can’t perform “tap” tests to check for sub-surface defects in blades. But drones now do the vast majority of inspection tasks faster and more safely.
How many turbines can a drone inspect per day?
Inspection speed depends on the drone model, number of batteries, weather, and site factors. In optimal conditions, drones can inspect 8-12 average sized turbines per day. Larger battery packs extend flight time.
Wind turbine drone inspection helps energy companies improve safety, increase productivity, and reduce costs associated with maintenance. Following best practices ensures your drone program delivers maximum benefits. This guide provided a comprehensive overview of successfully leveraging drones to better manage wind assets.
- Regular wind turbine inspections are essential to minimize repairs and maximize uptime.
- Traditional manual inspection methods present safety, cost and data quality challenges.
- Drones provide close-up HD images and thermal data from all angles without risk to inspectors.
- Leading wind energy companies rely on drones to optimize inspections.
- Major benefits include improved safety, faster inspection speed, and better defect detection.
- Pilots, data analysts and inspectors are in demand as drone programs expand.
- Investing in a drone fleet offers a smart way to enhance maintenance and reduce costs.