How to quickly check wind turbines for damage

The answer is blowing in the wind

For some time now, a wind of change has been blowing in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. In 2014, the northernmost state of Germany was the country’s first ever to meet all of its power needs from renewable energy resources, according to Worldwatch Institute Europe.

Twedt Wind Farm, near the Danish border, has been an important power source for Schleswig-Holstein since the blades started turning in 1995. How have they beenmaintained over the years? Recently, a switch was made from manual inspection to aerial inspection by drones. We joined drone pilot and agricultural specialist Philipp Dethleffsen-Jürgensen, owner of SkyTec, to find out how he does it.

More cost-effective

“Today we’re going to run some drone flights to check the turbine blades for damage or other anomalies,” he tells us. “The blades used to be checked by industrial climbers, but they needed more time for preparation and the actual job. A drone is significantly faster and the downtime is shorter, so it’s much more cost-effective.”

The idea came from the fact that Dethleffsen-Jürgensen works on a farm and studies agriculture, he tells us. “I wanted to use a drone for precision farming, to improve our use of fertilizers and insecticides and reduce costs. Since I selected a drone which is suitable for various applications, I can provide other services as well. That’s why I started SkyTec.”

Now it’s time for lift-off.

“With a drone, you can make inspections more frequently and detect cracks before the damage gets too costly.”

Philipp Dethleffsen-Jürgensen, SkyTec

Identifying damage early on

How does Dethleffsen-Jürgensen do it? “I start up the drone, which is battery-powered, and fly it around the wind turbine,” he says. “During each flight, it takes 200 to 300 photos from all angles, at a distance of two meters. That makes flying a bit more difficult, but the resolution is high, and that allows you to zoom in closely and detect hairline cracks at an early stage.”

“After collecting all the photos, I store them on the server to back up the data. Then I check all the photos, one by one, for damage, cracks, or other anomalies. If there are any, I assign them to different categories, to distinguish between minor damage and severe damage. This makes it easier for the customer to analyze the images.”

“The advantages of the drone are quick inspection and short downtime, which makes it possible to perform inspections more frequently. And you want to inspect more frequently in order to detect those cracks before the damage gets too seriousand too costly. Repairing small defects doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.”

“What I find especially important is that the drone is not affected by electromagnetic fields near buildings or wind turbines.”

Philipp Dethleffsen-Jürgensen, SkyTec

Where fine details matter

Dethleffsen-Jürgensen has previous experience with Topcon equipment. “On the farm, all our agricultural machines use Topcon’s parallel tracking system. When I decided to start working with a drone, I tried several different ones. Eventually I decided to use the Falcon 8. It is better equipped and is suitable for many applications – inspection, surveying, and many more. That made it possible for me to offer various services.”

“The Falcon is easy to operate. It remains stable, even with high wind speeds. The cameras are really good and have high resolution – the images are top quality and very sharp. That’s especially useful in areas like this, where the fine details matter. What I find especially important is that the drone is not affected by electromagnetic fields near buildings or wind turbines. That means I don’t lose control and the Falcon doesn’t crash. We have wind turbines at home, so I could practice my flights. Now I can use that experience elsewhere.”

And so, Philipp Dethleffsen-Jürgensen plays his part in making sure Twedt Wind Farm keeps on generating plenty of sustainable power. Schleswig-Holstein is truly doing some pioneering work in this area. Travelling through the state’s mesmerizing green landscape, you may catch a glimpse of Dethleffsen-Jürgensen’s drone climbing up to see if everything’s A-OK.