Inside Unmanned Systems

DEC 2017 - JAN 2018

Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.

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18 unmanned systems inside   December 2017/January 2018 by Renee Knight A s one of the world's leading concentrating solar power (CSP) research facilities, the Institute of Solar Research of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) is always looking for ways to hone solar energy technologies and improve solar power plant performance. CSP uses a large array of mirrors that focus solar radia- tion onto a small area, and is a complement to the popu- lar, low-cost photovoltaic (PV) cells in a completely new grid system. PV cells power solar plants by converting sunlight into electricity. CSP, on the other hand, stores energy thermally, can be turned on and off on demand, and can deliver power even when there's no sun. For this to happen, the array of mirrors must be inspected to en- sure they're working as they should. Back in 2009, the DLR team began looking into how unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) could make parabolic- trough solar field inspections more effective, and quickly determined Microdrones offered the solutions they need- ed to map these solar structures, said Christoph Prahl of the DLR. The Microdrones md4-200 and md4-1000 are deployed through what is known as the QFly project. "These mirrors need to be aligned very precisely con- cerning their geometry," Prahl said. "We have different types of optical measurement technologies and take im- ages of these mirrors to get their geometry. Then we can calculate the performance of these concentrated solar panels." The team completed the first successful UAS flight over a Spain-based solar power plant in 2014. They now f ly between 50 and 100 missions a year with the md4-1000, Prahl said, collecting aerial images to find defects in a mir- ror's shape, module orientation, torsion, or tracking devia- tions. About 60 collection segments can be inspected in one day. Once the images are gathered, they are evaluated with a corresponding software, enabling the team to determine the optical and thermal properties of the solar field—and ultimately how the station is performing. A More Effective Way to Collect Data Before investing in the Microdrones systems, Prahl and his team acquired the images they needed via cherry USER SHOWCASE FIELD TESTED, FIELD PROVEN. Photo courtesy of the Institute of Solar Research of the German Aerospace Center (DLR). MAPPING SOLAR STRUCTURES WITH UAS The Institute of Solar Research of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) deploys Microdrones unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to inspect solar power station technology that uses an array of mirrors. How CSP Works CSP systems generate solar power by using mirrors or lenses to concentrate a large area of sunlight onto a small area. The heat is carried from the solar field to the power block, where it is transformed to electricity. There are several designs to do this. In one, the transfer fluid, oil, is distributed through the mirror array at the focal point receiving the concentrated solar heat and then is returned to the power plant. In another, molten salt is heated at a focal point at the center of the mirror array near the power plant. In either design, the mirror positioning is critical for power plant performance. A Microdrones UAS inspects a parabolic trough solar field.

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