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Solar’s Dirty Secret – And Why Drones Are Dominating The Sector

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Published in PXYZ, Topographic Mapping

Utility-scale solar is unlike almost any other energy infrastructure system on the planet. These solar sites occupy vast expanses of land, covering up to 7,000 acres or more.

The only potential comparable energy infrastructure system would be coal, but its footprint is anything but light—open pit coal mines take a huge toll on the land, leaving generational scars behind for decades.

As you can imagine, not every spot on the planet is perfect for a solar plant. And to get started, you’ll first need to get your hands dirty.

Solar Energy’s Dirty Secret

The beginning of just about every solar project involves dirt—in many cases tons of dirt. Efficiently building across such massive seas of dirt requires requires thorough, accurate land measurements, or topographical mapping.

Now, moving dirt is expensive—especially at these scales. A single dump truck load of earth barely scratches the surface of what needs to be shifted, moved and rearranged for a project spanning hundreds or thousands of acres.

To top it off, there are ecological concerns that go along with these projects, too. Bottom line is the less civil work you require at your site, the better off your project economics.

Luckily, modern tech has paved the way for automated dozer operations that can dramatically cut costs. But to embrace these solutions, you need highly accurate topographic maps. Traditional surveying techniques undermine the cost saving from this automated approach. Enter the drones.

Fast, Accurate Topographic Mapping

To say that drones excel at this type of work is an understatement—aerial robotics solutions are simply the fastest, most efficient way to collect data for your project, where drones are twice as fast and up to half the cost of traditional methods.

The best part about drones is that aerial robotics is currently rocketing up the efficiency curve as the technology improves – similar to cell phones. That means that within the next ten years, the gulf between both cost and effectiveness of drones and traditional survey methods will only widen.

In ten years, dirt will still be tough and expensive to move—while drones will be cheaper, faster and more efficient than ever, telling you exactly where to build in order to avoid moving mountains for your next solar project.

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