Strat Aero, the Aim-listed company which provides solutions to the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) market, has signed a deal with Westar Energy, an electric utility provider in Kansas. Under the deal, the UAV solutions company will check for defects in 53 wind turbines owned by Westar in Kansas.
While the current deal is worth just $26,000 (£18,050, €23,356), there is a huge scope for growth as Westar has a further 259 turbines at this site apart from which it operates many other wind farms. Moreover, Strat Aero is working on this as a "proof of concept" to show that small aircraft like drones could be used to maintain and service wind turbines in a more cost-effective way than the established methods of manual inspections and lifting platforms.
While it has already started the inspection process at two of Westar's wind farms, it claims that its drones are covering eight turbines a day. Strat Aero's drones also use its own software that helps collect data which can be analysed at a later date.
Strat Aero said its drones carry cameras to capture images of the environmentally friendly electricity generators. It added that drones enable it to carry out inspections four times faster than established methods. Faster speed is in turn beneficial because it translates to lesser downtime for the turbines, which are stopped for inspection, reducing the amount of power generated.
Tony Dunleavy, chief executive at the Gatwick-based Strat Aero, said:"This agreement follows extended trials and is a breakthrough into a significant and potentially lucrative market and shows the functionality and efficiency of drones. It also places us in a strong position to roll out this service to cover Westar's full portfolio, and provides a springboard into the larger wind turbine drone inspection market."
The global market for inspecting wind turbines using drones is expected to be valued at $6bn a year by 2024, according to Navigant Research, a market research and consulting team that provides in-depth analysis of global clean technology markets. The reason for such a high valuation is the number of wind turbines is expected to increase exponentially from the current 300,000. Strat Aero hopes to establish itself in the massive market for UAVs through the deal with Westar.