Researchers at Dublin City University (DCU) are participating in a first-of-its-kind European project to discover the possible benefits of using drones and robots for the maintenance of wind and solar farms.
The Durable project is seeking to find out whether using such technologies to automate inspection of faults can reduce costs and boost take-up of renewable energies along the Atlantic.
The DCU researcher leading the project locally is Prof Patrick McNally, co-director of the Nanomaterials Processing Laboratory in DCU and the deputy director of its Advanced Processing Technology Research Centre.
He said countries along the western Atlantic seaboard are laggards in terms of reaching renewable energy targets, with plans to reach a target 20 per cent renewable energy use by the end of 2020 highly unlikely, particularly in the Republic where use is currently running at just under 11 per cent.
“One of the biggest impediments to driving things forward in encouraging greater adoption of wind and solar farms is the cost of maintenance, which represent upwards of 25 per cent of the total cost of producing energy,” said Prof McNally.
“The idea of the project is that unmanned vehicle technology, modern robotics technology and augmented reality can all be used to inspect turbines and solar panels to discover faults early on,” he added.
The project is led by the École Supérieure des Technologies Industrielles Avancées (Estia) in France, with partners along the western Atlantic seaboard in Portugal, Spain, Britain and Ireland. Durable has a budget of €3.9 million and is co-financed by the Interreg Atlantic Area Programme through the European Regional Development Fund.
“We envisage that through using a drone you might be able to spot a fault in a turbine using thermal imaging or through ultrasonics. We will be interrogating the electromagnetic fields around turbines, which essentially means we will be listening to the radio waves they produce,” said Prof McNally.
“Our particular role in the project is to provide the technology to listen to the radio frequency spectrum that emanations from the turbines and to correlate what we hear with faults in the turbine system to find out things such as cracks in blades or missing ball-bearings,” he added.
The project also intends to investigate the use of 3D printers to custom-build repairs for problems uncovered by drones. Durable is expected to run until 2022.