Australia’s solar energy market is shining brightly, riding an industry boom that began a few years ago and is forecast to continue. This method of generating electricity becomes increasingly appealing as energy prices continue to rise and solar panel costs become more efficient and affordable. Fueled by the country’s abundant solar irradiance, consumers and companies have begun gravitating toward solar energy, installing panels on the rooftops of homes and building solar farms to reap the benefits of clean energy on a larger scale. CDM Smith is helping one of those companies, a confidential client, comply with regulatory requirements throughout the design and construction of a large solar farm by using autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), known commonly as drones, to monitor environmental impacts.
Innovation in Flight
Monitoring environmental impacts throughout the project lifecycle is key to meeting regulatory requirements and potentially reducing significant financial obligations. The solar farm permit conditions allowed for reduced monetary installments to the government where minimisation of impacts to vegetation could be demonstrated. To help the client obtain that benefit, CDM Smith’s team considered the best way to establish existing on ground conditions and track vegetation loss. Infrastructure specialist Taylor Oldfield and engineer Evan O’Brien took this challenge as an opportunity to innovate and within the surveying process. “Previously, this type of information was collected by personnel on foot and proved to be a costly, time consuming, tedious process,” said Oldfield. Recognising that fact, Oldfield and O’Brien turned to UAVs to improve the surveying process. “Using this technology, we were able to deliver high-accuracy, high-resolution deliverables to the client in a more timely and cost-effective manner than a traditional ground-based survey could provide,” said Oldfield.
Using UAVs, the team could provide the client with robust data in a timely and cost-effective manner. “We recognised a major discrepancy between the quantity and quality of data you can obtain by sending two workers into the field to survey compared to sending up an aircraft with Airborne Laser Scanning (ALS) capabilities, with little to no options in between. UAVs provide something between these two levels of data capture, which is appealing to those who may be working on a tight budget or don’t have access to an aircraft with ALS,” explained O’Brien. According to O’Brien, the UAVs also bolster safety, removing risks for workers in the field through a hands-off data capture method: “For those working in potentially dangerous locations, surveying using drones is a game-changer. Some tasks are not only time consuming, but dangerous. Using a machine removes the element of danger to employees.”