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September 10, 2015 – RouteFifty, By Dave Nyczepir

As public utilities build more turbines to keep up with local energy demands, the service stands to surpass the UAVs used in revenues.

Drones are increasingly being used to inspect wind turbine blades—damage to which can reduce energy generation and cause structural collapse if left unaddressed, according to a new Navigant Research report.

Roughly 268,550 turbines worldwide accounting for more than 805,000 blades, per Navigant Research’s database, need at least one yearly inspection, if not more, due to storm damage and manufacturing defects.

Hundreds of thousands more turbines are expected to come online in the next few years to meet local energy demands, each with a 20-year lifespan on average.

Unmanned aerial vehicles with strong batteries and sharp optics that can withstand high winds are essential. But, according to the report:

…equally important moving forward will be the integration of data analysis systems that can help automate data processing and analysis in order to mitigate the photo fatigue that can occur photographing, analyzing, and cataloguing vast blade surface image data across fleets of wind turbines.

The best inspection companies will provide the best analysis and be sought after by public utilities and independent power producers alike.

Blade inspection from the ground with binoculars or other magnifiers and up close with rope access or platforms won’t go away, according to the report, but drones do provide a middle option offering quick, cheap, risk-free visuals—especially offshore.

Drone-based wind turbine blade inspection remains in its infancy, but the service stands to generate more revenue than the UAVs themselves in time.

Chart of cumulative revenue for UAV units by region, 2015-2024
Cumulative Revenue for UAV Units and Services for Wind Turbine Inspection by Region, World Markets: 2015-2024. (Navigant Research)

By 2020, inspections will reach nearly $1 billion in global revenue, while drone sales for inspections will sit just under $200 million, according to the report.


The information above is for general awareness only and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Economic Adjustment or the Department of Defense as a whole.