The most important thing in three sentences.
Drones have their strength in creating measurements and are revolutionising the planning process.
Drones are a quantum leap in occupational safety.
They give you a decisive competitive advantage.
The solar industry is growing rapidly and the sight of solar installations on open spaces or roofs has become a familiar one. The state is calling for measures and providing financial support. But what do the systems have to do with drones? We clarify this in our guide. Let's first take a look at typical problems in your industry.
Challenges in the solar industry
You know the problem: solar installations are often located on roofs or other elevated surfaces. Visibility is poor and it takes a lot of effort to get a proper overview. Scaffolding and cherry pickers are expensive and inflexible - you have to check carefully each time whether they are worth using.
Lack of clarity and documentation
Large flat roofs in particular are difficult to plan using only cameras and drawings. They are confusing and often have air outlets, lightning conductors and chimneys - and where were they again? Manual measurements can only be believed to a limited extent: Is the object really in the right place? What if the colleague has overlooked something? It's not really satisfactory.
Increasing demands on occupational safety
Working on roofs is dangerous. It is therefore not surprising that the calls for occupational safety are getting louder as the industry continues to grow. Time and again, serious and even fatal accidents occur during installation, maintenance and repair work. Alongside electrical accidents, falls are one of the most common causes.
Measuring up to 200 hectares in one hour
Most project developers commission surveying offices to measure fields for ground-mounted systems. Several technicians are on the road for days and weeks on end to collect a thin grid of points that ultimately form the terrain model. This is time-consuming and inefficient. What's more, as a planner you still lack a useful overview. Drones help here on two construction sites at once.
Daily updated overview map with 1.5 cm resolution
Current drone models fly with a full-frame camera at a height of 120 metres and take images with a resolution of 1.5 cm. A software programme compiles these images into contiguous overview maps of any size. Do you need 200 ha as a coherent, georeferenced photo? No problem! 1-2 hours of flight time and 3-4 hours of computer processing time and you have what you have always been missing.
Figure 1: Orthophoto 10 ha
3D terrain model (export to PV*Sol and other planning software)
You can also have a 3D terrain model calculated from the same drone images that created a 2D map. The model is georeferenced, i.e. provided with coordinates, and has a much higher point density than manual measurements. Depending on your requirements, you can have a point output every 50 cm or even every 5 cm.
Figure 2: Digital terrain model
All points are provided with colour information so that you receive a realistic digital twin of your planning area. The export to your favourite planning software is simple via .las or .dxf file (others available).
Figure 3: 3D model from drone images
Drones help with roof measurements
Taking roof measurements has always been a difficult task. You count tiles, use simple laser distance meters or other aids to get a reasonably realistic basis for planning. The risks range from falling to expensive planning errors due to incorrect data. Drones provide a remedy here by creating realistic digital twins. From now on, you can measure directly in the 3D model to the centimetre and ensure that the dimensions are correct.
In the private customer business, you have many small projects to manage. In future, your field service can have a drone with them that is used regularly and provides 3D data. Automatically captured image sets of between 60 and 120 images per property are uploaded to a cloud solution, for example, where they are automatically analysed. The models can be measured directly in the cloud or exported to any planning tool.
Figure 4: Roof for surveying
Flat roofs and large roofs
The challenges with large roof surfaces lie in the lack of clarity and the details - after all, where was the air outlet again? Only detailed documentation of the roof can help here. But that's easier said than done. With 3D models and photos from drones, you can document your future projects accurately and transparently.
The 3D models can be used to determine the roof surface and its dimensions down to the centimetre, as well as to precisely locate details such as antennas and shafts. Even roofs measuring more than 1000 square metres can be reconstructed with ease.
Figure 5: Flat roof measurement for photovoltaic image
Drone-based processes for companies
If you are looking for a digital image of a location, drones are the right choice. Before a solar system is installed, the roof is flown over in a grid pattern. The images captured are used to create a 3D model in the cloud , which provides important information on the current status throughout the entire planning process. The result is measurements that meet the requirements.
Flight planning takes place in the office on a tablet PC, so that you can optionally adjust the desired quality and flight time depending on the situation. The automatic flight is started on site at the touch of a button. During the flight, all you have to do is monitor the airspace and make sure that no obstacles have been overlooked in the planning. The drone automatically takes the necessary pictures and makes a stopover if the battery needs to be replaced. Once the mission is complete, the drone automatically returns to the starting point or a selected landing point.
While still in the field or back in the office, the image data is transferred either to the cloud or locally to the PC. This starts the modelling process using the software. You can create a rough model for quick validation in just a few minutes or have an exact model calculated directly. Depending on the objective of the mission, you now have a distortion-free orthophoto, a point cloud or a true-to-life 3D model, e.g. as a roof survey , in which you can now plan the desired installation. The customer is pleased with the modern planning process and virtual images of the finished system and you benefit from verified data without having to enter a construction site.
Blueprint: Drone-based planning process
Figure 6: Drone-based planning process for solar companies
You arrive at the construction site for the first time and want to get an overview. However, this proves to be more difficult than expected. You discover more and more critical points where conventional surveying methods reach their limits. They check the space above the site and realise that many critical points are easy to spot from the air. This is the moment when their drone comes into play as a little helper.
As always, the drone is ready to fly in the boot. The flight preparation is completed in 4 minutes and the drone is ready for its standard mission. While the necessary image data is collected automatically, they simply take care of airspace monitoring. After a few minutes, the area is fully mapped and everything is ready for modelling.
Figure 7: Recording data for 3D surveying by drone
Next, the images are uploaded directly to the cloud via the mobile data network. Once you have arrived at the office, select the desired parameters of the 3D model and start the calculation. After a few minutes, the data is available for download in the cloud. It is now used in CAD as the basis for further planning of the system.
Implementation of drone-based processes
Introducing a new technology into established processes can lead to problems. But you can be sure of one thing: you are not the first! Drones have arrived in companies since 2017 at the latest and we receive news of successfully implemented drone processes every day.
Let's be honest - as a company, you don't actually care about the drone, you want the data. Or even better: just the result of the data. Drone and software manufacturers have understood this and are therefore automating everything that can be automated. The status quo is that the drone flight itself hardly attracts any attention because it simply works. It gets really interesting when you look at the software available for processing. And a lot has happened here in recent years! No matter what file format you want the result in - there is a solution for almost everything on the market. You just have to know about them.
So the question you should ask yourself in your company is not primarily which drone you need. The question should be what result you need in order to get the most out of drone technology with minimal implementation effort. As a rule, it is not the drone that is decisive for this, but above all the software.