Aerial infrared thermography for low-cost and fast fault detection in utility-scale PV power plants

Aline Kirsten Vidal de Oliveira (Corresponding author), Mohammadreza Aghaei, Ricardo Rüther

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


The uptime of utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) power plants is of utmost importance for meeting contractual energy yields and expected capacity factors. Aerial Infrared Thermography (aIRT) is a non-destructive, no-downtime, fast and cost-effective method for monitoring large-scale PV power plants and assisting in fault detection. The use of aIRT techniques aims at increasing the quality and service life of PV plants especially in sunny and developing countries such as Brazil, where there is a shortfall of specialised workforce and the costs for a detailed supervisory system of utility-scale PV power plants are high. This paper presents an analysis of an aIRT flight campaign over four utility-scale PV plants in the northeast of Brazil. Two types of measurement equipment have been tested and compared, resulting in more stability and efficiency using a commercially available solution. This solution was also equipped with a RGB camera that accelerated the inspections, since it helped to differentiate defects from hot spots caused by soiling and vegetation over the modules, which were common. Different methods for fault detection were also tested and it was concluded that post-flight image analysis provides faster results. The most common faults that can happen in the early operation of PV power plants and how operators should address and prevent them were also discussed. The most common defect detected during the campaign were disconnected cell substrings. However, disconnected strings had the most impact on the power plants energy performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)712-724
Number of pages13
JournalSolar Energy
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2020


  • Aerial inspections
  • Fault detection
  • Infrared thermography
  • Large-scale PV systems
  • Operation and maintenance (O&M)


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