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How Piloted Aircraft Inspections Enhance Solar Safety

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Explosive growth in the solar industry has led to a surge of solar-related jobs.

Photovoltaic (PV) installer employment alone is expected to grow 52% by 2030. While this is great news for the clean energy sector, the economy as a whole, and climate mitigation efforts, on-site solar jobs are among the riskiest in the industry. Aerial inspections with piloted aircraft help mitigate these risks and enhance safety throughout the life of a site. 


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Occupational Risks 

People who install, inspect, and maintain large-scale solar sites face occupational hazards that can cause injury, illness, or fatalities. Site safety begins at the design phase and carries through construction and installation. Once a site is commissioned, the focus on safety shifts to ongoing maintenance. It’s paramount that owners, asset managers, and O&M take every precaution to protect workers across a full spectrum of risks. 

  • Electrical issues: Electrocution is one of the most prevalent risks on solar sites. Modules in short circuit or forward bias can pass current even when the combiner is offline. This current is not identifiable through remote monitoring systems and poses a serious risk for those conducting on-site tests. 

  • Rooftop installation risks: Performing work on rooftops and other heights compounds the risks of falls. DC issues can also cause fires, which are particularly risky in rooftop installations. 
  • Weather-related risks: Solar workers are exposed to weather elements year-round. Installations and inspections directly expose solar workers to the elements, often for prolonged periods of time, and can lead to heat-related illnesses, including heatstroke, exhaustion, and dehydration. 

  • Ground-related risks: On-the-ground risks can come with the territory - such as the risk of trip and fall from uneven terrain. Ground-related risks increase after extreme weather events. Sites can become obstacle courses with dangerous live wires, rattlesnakes on the ground, fire hazards from debris lodged under panels, and falling pieces of damaged equipment. Aerial inspections help eliminate the need for people to be physically on the ground and face these risks. 


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Safety Solutions 

In the recent past, most operational and safety plans for PV assets centered around physical site inspections, but onsite visits compound the location-based risk factors. Piloted aircraft aerial inspections provide superior early issue detection, better scalability, and advanced data analytics that improve both DC health and site safety. 

  • Offsite risk mitigation: The single most effective way to improve site safety is to keep people away from site risks altogether. As the world’s largest global provider of aerial infrared inspections, Heliolytics can scan for safety issues without anyone needing to physically approach a module or set foot on a site. 

  • Earlier risk identification: Heliolytics’ capabilities go beyond mere production data analytics, which by itself can’t identify non-energy risk factors. Hot spots or submodule failures on a site may not cause an immediate or even noticeable energy loss, but they can be signs of serial defects and fire hazards. Heliolytics can proactively identify these risks through aerial thermal inspections.

  • Comprehensive risk assessment: Heliolytics has a three-stage inspection process: acquisition, analytics, and remediation. The acquisition phase entails site scanning and development of an imagery database covering all modules in the  system, and this information is analyzed during the analytics phase to produce an actionable report. From there, it’s passed on to stakeholders to take appropriate remediation steps, including preventative safety measures. This process provides better accuracy and safety vs. traditional inspection tools, and allows owners and operations to inspect 100% of a PV system on a regular basis.

  • Owner and asset manager peace of mind: Drone inspections still require a potentially risky site visit, and an owner/operator may need to get involved to ensure a UAV operator can access a remote site. Piloted aircraft inspections eliminate the risk of being on site; as long as a site is online, Heliolytics can perform inspections without any owner intervention or involvement needed. 

As the solar industry considers its rapid growth trajectory, piloted aircraft aerial inspections are playing a key role in optimizing assets and increasing site output while also providing a greater level of safety and protection for its workforce.


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