Photovoltaic inspections from the air

Start-up ucair is using drones to check solar systems

A camera drone floats above the roof of a house fitted with solar panels.

A poster on ucair’s office wall shows the Berlin start-up’s business idea: a camera drone floats over a wide area with solar panels. ucair inspects photovoltaic installations via flight thermography. Copters do the work of technicians who stand on hydraulic platforms and use hand cameras. "We are using a network of around 50 certified drone pilots to make the recordings, from Rostock to Constance", says 26-year-old Marian Krüger, one of the two ucair managers. The other manager is Christian Shuster, and together they have been looking for solutions to increase photovoltaic plant yields  at the innogy Innovation Hub. The result: ucair – which was developed from project idea to market maturity in about eight months.

To analyse the data, the founders are working to develop their own analytical tools together with photovoltaic experts. "The customer will receive a report with recommendations on what repairs are necessary to achieve the maximum yield", explains Shuster.

Christian Shuster, Managing Director ucair. He developed the ucair business model together with Marian Krüger in the innogy Innovation Hub.
Not a single sunbeam should be wasted because of defective solar cells.
Christian Shuster, Managing Director ucair

And there is much to be done: according to studies and estimates by experts, 80 per cent of all solar plants in Germany show evidence of damage  . Shuster shows actual thermographic recordings: coloured areas indicate where there are breaks in cells, which could be caused by things such as hail. Other issues may be due to defective inverters or plug connections. "Since August 2016, we have been able to reveal to our customers potential earnings of more than 90,000 euros", says the 31-year-old. "And if we don’t find any defects, the customers are happy to get an overview of the technical condition of their solar installation."

First spin-off from innogy Innovation Hub

Start-up ucair is the first spin-off from the innogy Innovation Hub, which supports the development of innovative digital business models for the energy industry. Endowed with one million euros of starting capital, ucair has been based at the Berlin Hub of the innogy Innovation Hub since mid-February. The five-person team is sharing the office space, located in a former gym in the district of Schöneberg, with other founders.

And how do you feel to be standing on your own feet? "Everything is very exciting. In the next few weeks alone, we will be inspecting systems with a total capacity of 30 megawatts", says Marian Krüger, scrolling through his schedule.

With an installed total capacity of 40 gigawatts of solar power, Germany is an ideal start-up market for ucair.
Thomas Birr, Senior Vice President of Innovation & Business Transformation at innogy

"Even after the spin-off, we are still closely linked to innogy, for example, with the network service and regional companies", explains Shuster. "We can continue to work with the sales teams, and at the same time innogy can benefit from our experience, for example, when they are building a digital platform."

The goals of ucair’s management for the next five years are ambitious: "We want to expand into other countries. Our network model is made for that", says Marian Krüger.

And at innogy, people believe that their debut spin-off will be successful. "The scalability of an innovative business model is a key criterion for selecting start-ups that we support," said Thomas Birr, Senior Vice President of Innovation & Business Transformation at innogy.