Financial prospects of commercial drones
Drones are evolving beyond their military origin to become powerful business tools. They’ve already made the leap into the consumer market, and now they're being put to work in commercial and civil government applications from firefighting to farming. That’s creating a market opportunity that's too large to ignore
Between now and 2020, Goldman Sachs forecast a $100 billion market opportunity for drones—helped by growing demand from the commercial and civil government sectors.
The fastest growth opportunity comes from businesses and civil governments. They're just beginning to explore the possibilities, but we expect they'll spend $13 billion on drones between now and 2020, putting thousands of them in the sky.
Citing as source “Goldman Sachs Research” by 2020, we expect 7.8 million consumer drone shipments and $3.3 billion in revenue.
Commercial drones and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations
As now FAA has brought some limitations in the way the commercial drones can be operated:
Drones cannot operate over people and must be flown by someone with remote pilot certificate Autonomous operations allowed.
Drones cannot fly over 400 feet high and must fly in the line of sight with the drone operator.
Under Section 333, if someone wanted to commercially fly a drone – e.g., make a profit from the operations or use it as part of his business – he had to file a lengthy application with the FAA and, among other requirements, obtain a pilot’s license.
Under Part 107, in order for someone to become a commercial drone operator, he must get a remote pilot airman certificate, which includes passing a TSA screening and a remote pilot exam at a testing center (or an online test for anyone who already has a pilot’s license).
The electricity sector is spearheading the largest industry-wide effort to advance the deployment of drones in the U.S.
We have about 382,000 miles of transmission lines, 45,000 substations, more than 5,500 generation units. We have enough distribution lines to wrap around Earth 139 times,” said Chris Hickling, director of government relations at EEI. “ All of those infrastructures have to be inspected, and if we can catch problems before they happen, there are cost and efficiency savings.”
E.E.I. try to unlock the F.A.A. regulations regarding commercial drones and align them with the European norms implemented already successfully by large utility companies like E.ON on the other side of the pond. The demand for drones is: they must fly autonomously over 400ft high and beyond the line of sight in order to perform meaningful data acquisitions.
Autonomous drones as business tools used in Renewable Energy Industry
“Solar companies and service providers are using many different types of technology to optimize both the deployment of solar and the operations and maintenance of solar,” says Justin Baca, the vice president of markets and research for the solar group Solar Energy Industries Association. He adds: “It’s all about cutting costs.”
It is a negative perception of manually-flown drones because they are hard to control, are prone to crashing, and produce inconsistent data. That is corrected by software and access to data cloud. The software is generating the flying path which is mapped through cloud technology over to the drone control devices: tablets, smart phones, laptops. In this scenario, drones are becoming self-piloting machines.
Here are few examples of drones used in the renewable energy industry to show case the advantage brought by this technology.
Solar developer Strata Solar uses drones with infrared cameras to survey more than 1 gigawatt of solar projects in operation. The images from the cameras can reveal any solar panels that aren’t producing electricity.
A number of electric utilities are using drones for similar applications. Duke Energy, for instance, is testing how infrared cameras mounted on drones can help detect malfunctions in solar panels and enable faster repairs. Currently, utility workers conduct inspections by walking through a solar farm. The faster those flaws can be found and repaired, the more the PV plant will produce more energy.
Autonomous drones are cutting more as 50% from wind farms installation and maintenance costs
Investor-owned utilities spent $42 billion in capital expenditures on transmission and distribution last year alone and $100 billion on the operations and maintenance of that transmission and distribution infrastructure. At this scale, any efficiency improvements from drones could have substantial benefits.
Collecting wind farm data, drones are flying autonomously during the inspection and use an advanced damage identification system to capture high-quality images, detect wind turbine cracks and collect valuable data.
Since utilities deploy nearly all wind projects in the U.S. and oversee 60 percent of U.S. solar capacity, the utility industry’s adoption of drones will produce enormous benefits for the renewable energy sector overall.
There are few companies who are offering significant products proved to be efficient and give results with autonomous drones. Here come as highly recommended SkySpec and Sharper Shape.
SkySpecs this Ann Arbor, the Mich.-based startup has developed an automated drone inspection system for the wind industry — cutting inspection time down to minutes.
SkySpecs' automated drone can inspect wind turbine blades in less than 15 minutes for a single turbine. Credit: SkySpecs.
SkySpecs is working with Sandia National Laboratories to validate its damage detection algorithms to meet industry standards. They’ll also work together on examining future inspection methods beyond just ‘visual inspection.’ By incorporating more advanced inspection technologies, they will improve the value of the drone inspection.
Another strategic partner for SkySpecs is Siemens Windpower. Siemens and technology firm Skyspecs are preparing to deploy new drones which use a combination of 3D technology and digital data capture to reduce downtimes and labor costs,
Sharper Shape is a company with headquarters in Grand Forks, North Dakota and all its R&D located in Espoo, Finland.
Sharper Shape is currently selling its third-generation drone inspection technology with LIDAR for 3-D modeling, ultraviolet and thermal sensors to detect hotspots on the grid and a still camera with sub-millimeter resolution that can show something as small as a splinter in a wind blade.
Sharper Shape’s Automatic Detailed Inspection (ADI) service greatly reduces the amount of effort required for close-up utility examinations, while capturing incredibly detailed, consistent, and repeatable inspection data. Our proprietary flight planning algorithms use LiDAR geospatial data to create precise 3D flight paths. Autonomous inspection operations are then executed under autopilot control, with the drone exactly following these calculated routes. ADI dramatically reduces the time required for detailed wind turbine inspections while also lowering the demands on field drone pilots. Credit: Sharper Shape.