Heliolytics: Aerial Inspection For PV System Maintenance

CIO VendorRob Andrews, CEO
Today, many countries endorse expansion of the solar industry to lessen the burning of fossil fuels, and to decrease the costs of power generation. According to the IEA, solar is the fastest growing energy source globally, being driven by rapidly decreasing costs. These rapidly decreasing costs require new technology and innovation to ensure that the technology can continue to produce power reliably over their full 30-40 year life. In addition, the complex solar plant structure encompassing several hundred individual components over very large areas creates maintenance challenges which are unique to the sector.

Recognizing these challenges in the evolving solar industry, Rob Andrews [a Ph.D. in Photovoltaic (PV) system performance, modeling, and optimization], CEO of Heliolytics founded the company in 2014. With over 40 academic publications in the PV sector and serving on eight solar technical standards and best practices committees, Toronto-based Heliolytics has emerged as a global leader in long term reliability management for solar energy systems. The firm addresses the challenges through its proprietary aircraft sensor systems and in-house Artificial Intelligence (AI) analysis software. “The aerial inspection solution not only decreases the operational cost more responsibly but also helps gain actionable insights to operate the solar plant efficiently," begins Andrews.

Since Heliolytics' inception, Andrews and his team have journeyed from initially using drones to capture data to finally upgrading the system to manned aircrafts. The Heliolytics team found that drone technology limited the quality of data which could be captured, and became an expensive affair as it involved deploying multiple drones, operators, and varied levels of equipment and calibrations. “We came into this market with a deep knowledge of the solar industry, and the perspective of finding the right technology to improve the performance of solar facilities, we didn’t come to this from the point of view of trying to sell drones. Because of this, when we identified the limitations of a drone platform, we were able to quickly adapt to our industry leading aircraft inspection platform”, says Andrews.
The data obtained from the cell-level inspection of the solar field is fed into the AI analysis software to derive actionable macro insights for improving site, production, decreasing operational costs and proactively identifying risks.

Heliolytics uses manned-aircrafts to fly over the top of solar farms and collects the multi-spectral images of solar components. The firm then applies advanced machine learning-based tools to identify and classify the identified defects from its library of over 350 unique fault categories. With an accumulation of 15 Gigawatts worth of inspection data about prospective faults, the user can quickly correlate it to the library to identify the errors and evolving risk factors.

Heliolytics unique approach to aerial inspections allows the team to provide advanced solutions to their customers. Through a pilot project, Heliolytics has demonstrated the ability to deepen the solar energy producers' understanding of the causes for energy loss and how its client can generate ROI over time through proactive management of fleet module health. "Apart from helping clients learn about the risks which can be mitigated within the solar portfolio, we also provide predictive analytics capabilities for them to understand deep risks, which may not necessarily affect the plant currently but 5-10 years down the road," says Andrews.

With such improvements and track record of addressing PV system issues, Heliolytics has helped many companies achieve this feat at minimum cost. One such company, which generates power with a 20MW of the solar field, has seen these benefits first-hand. Having inspected the solar field, the firm identified a sub-module failure, which pointed to the fact that 0.2 percent of the plant was deactivated. Although such issues are commonly observed across solar plants, this site was notable due to the clustering of failures in specific regions of the solar components array. Through applying their advanced predictive analytics capabilities, Heliolytics was able to utilize this data to pinpoint the exact manufacturer, factory, and soldering machine which caused the fault in the array. This exposed a serial defect mode which affected up to a fifth of the modules on the site, significantly improving the ability of the site owner to transact on a warranty for this issue.

With an impressive roadmap, Heliolytics continues to invest its resources in growing its international portfolio, and to expand beyond its principal markets in North America, Europe and Mexico. “We’re very excited for the future of this industry, Heliolytics is providing solutions specifically tuned for the needs of solar portfolio owners, and are excited to continue to announce paradigm changing technology to help the solar industry continue to responsibly grow to be the largest producer of energy globally.”