A Better Way to Site Renewable Energy Projects

Joe Duggan, Communications

March 20, 2019

The British rock band The Who gained fame in the 1960s by smashing guitars and singing catchy pop tunes, including one titled, “I Can See for Miles.”

At Olsson, we take better care of our instruments, especially ones that can allow wind energy developers to see for miles.

Before locking down turbine locations for a wind farm, visual inspections of individual sites must be completed. Called micrositing, the process is critical to maximizing a turbine’s efficiency, while also identifying potential obstacles.

Micrositing frequently involves a dusty, rugged ride on an all-terrain vehicle, which limits the number of site checks to perhaps 35 a day. Using drones and other technology, we’ve perfected a way to triple that output.

Mike Laird is a senior surveyor in our Overland Park, Kansas, office who has logged hundreds of hours in the cockpit as a private pilot. It only makes sense that Mike has developed mastery of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) – commonly called drones – as a tool that pairs his profession with his passion.

A UAV, with a range of up to 2 miles, can cover ground much more efficiently than an ATV. Mike and other drone experts at Olsson saw a way to combine their UAV skills with computer networking and global positioning system (GPS) technology. The combination produced a dramatic improvement in the micrositing data we can deliver to clients in real time.

We ran tests of our system, which demonstrated the geographic precision that can be achieved with drones. And Mike employed a specialized drone that can handle wind gusts of up to 45 mph.

The true test came in the field. Rather than climbing on ATVs, our clients sat comfortably in an SUV while our drones flew from site to site. Inside the vehicle, they watched a live-stream of each site inspection, noting the locations of every fence, irrigation system, utility pole, oil well, livestock feeder, or other potential obstacle.

The setup allowed our clients to input data directly into their laptops, saving additional time in the process. Rather than three dozen site assessments in a day, they were able to complete more than 100.

“They can see everything the drone can see,” Mike said. “They can get a lot of desktop work done in a darkened, climate-controlled SUV instead of an ATV.”

We’ve deployed the micrositing system for wind projects in multiple states and we’ve also applied it to solar projects. The service dovetails with UAV-assisted access road siting we’ve provided to renewable energy developers. 

It’s just one example of how our skill with technology allows us to better see solutions for our clients.


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