Drone-Based Solar Field Performance Monitoring at Shams CSP Power Plant

In the heart of the UAE just 120 km from Abu Dhabi, Shams 1 CSP plant which is owned and operated by Shams Power Company stands as a beacon of innovation in renewable energy. As a 100 MW power plant, it combines proven parabolic trough technology with cutting-edge power generation, symbolizing the nation’s commitment to sustainability. With its inauguration in 2013 Shams 1 became the largest CSP project globally and the Middle East’s first. Operating in the Al Dhafra Region, it injects clean energy into the National grid.

Shams 1 CSP Plant ventured into the pursuit of operational excellence, the story unfolded with challenges embedded in their manual monitoring methods. Daily patrols, yearly thermographic inspections, and alignment measurements posed substantial time and resource demands. In response to these challenges, Shams 1 embarked on a collaborative journey with Volateq to revolutionize their solar field performance monitoring.

Spanning 2.5 square kilometers with 192 loops, Shams 1 CSP Plant epitomizes renewable innovation. Adorned with over 258,000 mirrors, it generates a formidable 100 MW of nameplate power. Featuring 768 solar collector assembly units and 25,000+ absorber tubes, this facility maximizes solar energy conversion. Shams 1 sends every watt of power directly to the grid without power storage.


The Previous Situation at Shams Power Plant:

In pursuit of operational excellence, Shams 1 Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant sought to enhance their operations and maintenance procedures for greater efficiency. Recognizing the limitations of their previous monitoring, which relied on manual efforts and resource-intensive processes, Shams 1 identified key challenges in their daily operations:

  1. Daily Patrols:
    – Manual inspections for mirror status, Heat Collection Element (HCE) status, ball joint visual inspections, main Heat Transfer Fluid (HTF) header sliding support inspections, and accumulated sand in solar field (SF) roads.
    – Required considerable manpower (3 hours per day) involving a team comprising of minimum 1 Solar Field Operator (SFO), two helpers, and a pickup.
  2. Thermographic Inspection:
    – Annual thermographic inspections of absorber tubes which took them minimum 1 months of time.
    – Demanded substantial manual effort (3 hours per day for 30 days) with a team consisting of minimum 1 Solar Field Operator (SFO), a helper, and a pickup.
  3. Alignment Measurement:
    – Alignment measurements based on Solar Collector Element (SCE) performance.
    – Significantly time-consuming, with a duration of 20 minutes per SCE and involving minimum 1 SFO, two helpers, and a pickup.

The manual efforts involved in these routine inspections were not only time-intensive but also posed challenges in terms of accuracy and scalability. In response to these challenges, Shams 1 CSP Plant wanted to improve their solar field performance monitoring through the implementation of Volateq’s solar analytics software for Drone Technology. This transition aimed to streamline operations, improve efficiency, and reduce the labor-intensive nature of their previous methods.

"Volateq's solution revolutionized our solar field monitoring. We are noting efficiency gains and the real-time insights ensure a reliable energy supply."
Salim Khelifa
Engineering Manager, Shams Power Company

Implementation of Volateq´s services

By embracing Volateq’s state-of-the-art drone analysis technology, Shams 1 has not only overcome operational challenges but has also unlocked a spectrum of benefits that extend far beyond conventional monitoring methods.

Amongst others these benefits are:

  1. Efficiency amplified:
    Volateq’s drone analysis has redefined daily monitoring, replacing labor-intensive patrols with a swift, one-hour flight covering 192 loops. This efficiency amplification translates to significant time savings, allowing resources to be redirected towards strategic endeavors rather than routine inspections.
  2. Real-Time Decision-Making:
    With Volateq’s real-time data analysis, Shams 1 now enjoys instantaneous insights into the health of its solar field. Quick data uploads, automatic analysis within one hour, and timely reporting empower decision-makers with the information they need precisely when they need it, enhancing the overall responsiveness of the plant’s operations.
  3. Comprehensive Monitoring:
    Volateq’s technology goes beyond conventional inspections, capturing detailed data during normal solar field operation. From broken mirrors and alignment issues to Heat Collection Element (HCE) status and gas saturation metrics, the comprehensive monitoring output ensures a thorough understanding of the plant’s performance without the need for extensive and time-consuming inspections.
  4. Strategic Resource Allocation:
    By eliminating the need for onerous daily patrols and lengthy yearly thermographic inspections, Shams 1 can strategically allocate resources where they matter most. This shift not only optimizes manpower but also contributes to a more sustainable and cost-effective operational model.
  5. Precise Maintenance Protocols:
    Volateq’s solution introduces specialized procedures for critical positions like Zenith, addressing issues related to Solar Collector Element (SCE) alignment and torsion introduced by friction. This precision ensures that maintenance efforts are directed where they are needed most, minimizing downtime and optimizing the lifespan of critical components.

In conclusion, the collaboration with Volateq has not only resolved operational challenges but has positioned Shams 1 CSP Plant at the forefront of innovation in CSP technology. The benefits realized extend beyond mere efficiency gains, paving the way for a future where concentrated solar power is not just sustainable but smart and strategically driven. Shams 1 and Volateq together exemplify the power of technology to transform challenges into opportunities, setting a benchmark for the entire CSP industry.

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