Bringing Drone Technology to Wind Turbine Access Road Design

Rod Hanson, General Civil

May 23, 2018

A wind farm on the West Coast.

As interest in green power continues to increase, you’ll see more and more wind turbines dotting the landscape. Wind turbines provide clean, renewable energy and they’re generating more of it as units get taller and blades get longer.

Determining the location of each wind turbine site is a complex process. There are many restrictions and constraints to consider including wind characteristics in the area, land availability, existing buildings and infrastructure, endangered species and protected lands, Federal Aviation Administration clearance, and geographical landscape.   

Geographical landscape can be a complicated issue for any potential wind turbine site. Wind turbines are made up of multiple components and long, oversized vehicles are used to deliver these components to each site. The delivery vehicles require large areas to make turning movements and cannot traverse steep terrain or negotiate roads with quick changes in terrain. Large cranes are needed to erect the components to construct the wind turbine. To help control costs and save time, it’s ideal to move the cranes, fully assembled, from one wind turbine site to the next, which requires additional planning.

Cranes erecting large wind turbine components.

During Olsson’ preliminary design of a wind farm, access roads are laid out to each individual wind turbine site to allow for large vehicles and to optimize the crane route.  High resolution aerial imagery data and aerial topographic survey data are typically used to create the preliminary design.  Many visible features, such as drainage patterns, tree masses, or other physical restrictions can be identified from this data.

Upon the completion of the preliminary access road design, a field review is usually conducted.  During the field review, each of the wind turbine sites is reviewed more closely for areas that need to be avoided or modified to allow delivery vehicles access.  Some sites can be seen from the existing road and the design can be verified quickly. But many sites aren’t visible from the road and some can’t be reached by car. In those cases, the project team needs to verify the route on foot. At a typical wind farm, between walking and driving, the project team can review 25-30 sites per day, but more than 100 wind turbine sites generally make up a wind farm.    

To help in the time-consuming process of a field review, Olsson can also use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or drones. There are many advantages associated with UAV technology. One drone can review more than 100 sites in a day. The drone provides live, real time, high-resolution video to the project team.  The video can easily be viewed on monitors in the field, and it can also be live streamed to team members in the office. The visual feed and road design plans can be placed side by side. If different areas along a route need to be further examined or changed during the review, the team has direct communication with the drone pilot who can react immediately and modify the approach. The data is recorded and stored so information from the field review is available at any time to reference and use. 





A drone conducting a field review.

By using drone technology, Olsson can provide live video to a much larger audience during field reviews and produce a documented video record of each site in a timely and cost-efficient manner.

Wind turbine siting is just one area where Olsson is using drones for renewable energy clients.  Other applications include: land survey and mapping, crop damage mapping, power line inspections, pre- and post-project documentation, asset inspection and documentation, and environmental observation.

To learn more about our drone technology, please contact me at