Drone Use in Offshore Wind Inspections Increases Safety and Efficiency
On offshore wind installations, typical inspections and repairs can be expensive and time-consuming; when using people to get the job done, the process can also prove dangerous. Several initiatives are underway to make changes to the status quo in this industry, and many have been incorporating the use of aerial drones, coupled with newer software packages, to streamline the inspection and repair process.
Offshore wind installations face a variety of stressors that contribute to typical wear and tear, including environmental factors, like inclement weather events or exposure to the elements, and even hidden manufacturing or installation defects. Small defects and other areas of corrosion can continue to degrade over time and lead to decreased efficiency or even failure of the system. When failure occurs, inspection and repairs can be quite costly, and this is compounded by time lost during the down period.
By using aerial drones to undertake routine and tailored inspections, companies are able to decrease the time and money that typically goes into the process. On the Block Island Wind Farm Installation (Rhode Island, USA), the ULC Custom-Developed Hexacopter UAS has been in use since September 2019. This drone was able to obtain photographic data on all key inspection points in only 25% of the time that it would typically take to manually inspect the same areas.
Thermal imaging (infrared) technology can also be used to gather additional data on potential weak points, defects, and corrosion along the turbines. When these weak points are revealed early on, large-scale turbine failure can usually be avoided, with repairs being made before the system fails completely.
As the global push for offshore renewable installations continues to grow, innovative technologies such as these will play a key role in increasing safety and efficiency on offshore wind farms. The United States in particular appears to be entering a period of rapid growth in the offshore wind market, and novel methods such as these will continue to drive down operating costs, ensuring that renewable energy continues to be presented as an affordable and sustainable option.
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