Robot Flying Squad Takes Off
Robot Flying Squad Takes Off

Can you imagine climbing a 70-metre wind turbine to inspect it in -20°C? No, we can’t either. That’s why CLP China has brought in a flying squad of drones and robots to do the work of humans at a wind farm and create an ingenious way of doing things.


They’re becoming an increasingly common sight on the horizon – giant turbines towering imperiously over open countryside as wind power is embraced as an effective alternative to fossil fuels.


But wind turbines need regular maintenance. They are exposed to extreme conditions including lightning, UV radiation, snow, hail, and storms, which can damage them and affect their performance.


Periodic inspections are essential to ensure their structural integrity and smooth operation. For years, those checks relied upon people using binoculars and long-range cameras from the ground combined with technicians working at height.


To make the inspections more effective and to reduce safety risks, CLP China is switching to a flying squad of drones and blade robots to keep its wind turbines turning.

Scaling new heights

The robot inspections were put to the test at Qian’an Wind Farm in Jilin province. The wind farm has been in operation for more than a decade and its 11 wind turbines and seven kilometres of power transmission lines are around midway through their expected life span.


In January, two drones weighing 1.38 kg and 6.3 kg took off in temperatures of -20°C to get an up-close look at the wind turbines.


As well as landing carefully on the turbines, the drones took high-definition photos and video of turbines parts including the tower, the nacelle, and even the edge and tips of the blades.

Watch some of the footage taken by the drones and robots during the wind turbine inspections.

After the inspection was completed, the images were examined by CLP China’s Centralised Analytics Platform, which helped identify any issues that needed to be addressed.

Surface cracks and corrosion on wind turbine blades
Surface cracks and corrosion on wind turbine blades can be easily spotted with a drone inspection.

One of the most impressive features of the inspections is that the drones can fly whether the wind turbines are static or moving, meaning there is no interruption to power generation as there would be with human inspections. Infrared scanning also makes it possible to spot defects at an early stage.


Robots are used to inspect the interior of the blades. Engineers can use the data collected to decide whether immediate cleaning or repairing work is needed, maximising power generation and enhancing the performance of the wind facilities in the long term.  

The first mission was a resounding success, reducing the inspection time from six to two days thanks to the long flight hours possible with the drones and their ability to operate in an extreme environment.


“With these drones and robots, we can improve inspection quality while reducing labour intensity and safety risks,” explains Qian’an Wind Farm station manager Zhang Zifu. “Our smart devices integrated with computer vision technologies can collect and analyse massive amounts of data using artificial intelligence.”

Box-like robot
The box-like robot is equipped with a thruster, a built-in sensor, and a camera to inspect the interior of the blades.

Broadening horizons 

CLP China is now looking to deploy drones to carry out security patrols in other wind farms. Engineers will also work with contractors to explore the feasibility of setting up an automatic fault identification system to expand smart management to different energy assets.


Following the successful use of drones and blade robots, CLP China is now improving the robots’ climbing and anti-skidding abilities to make them even more effective on their next mission. This partnership between human ingenuity and automation looks certain to deepen, with drones and robots used increasingly in inspections throughout the energy industry.