DroneBase has been on a tear of acquisitions and expansions in the wake of a $20 million funding round in October 2021. And the Santa Monica, Calif.-based company just revealed what some of the money is being spent on: the acquisition of India-based drone company AirProbe.
AirProbe uses drones to inspect solar energy systems, while also using AI-enabled analytics to digest solar inspection data. AirProbe is particularly notable for its proprietary Artificial Intelligence programs, which it claims can significantly reduce the amount of time needed to analyze aerial inspection data of solar energy systems by up to 50%.
“This enables solar owners, operators and financiers to more quickly take action to fix high value anomalies and defects to increase energy generation and improve system ROI,” according to a prepared statement from DroneBase.
DroneBase clearly has its sights set on being a world leader in intelligent aerial imaging, with a focus on working with renewable energy companies worldwide. And with the AirProbe acquisition, DroneBase landed itself an instant footprint in both Asia Pacific (APAC) and Europe. Both India and APAC are growing markets for the renewable energy industry.
“As both the number and size of solar energy systems deployed grow exponentially, inspecting and maintaining millions of systems will become more critical and more complex,” said Dan Burton, CEO of DroneBase in a prepared statement. “DroneBase solved how to scale solar energy inspections and data capture and AirProbe solved how to scale solar data analysis with AI.”
The significance of solar for the drone industry
Drones are a growing industry, but solar even more so. In the third quarter of 2021, the U.S. solar market installed 5.4 GWdc of solar capacity, which is a 33% increase over the third quarter of 2020 and the largest third quarter on record, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, which is the national trade association for the U.S. solar industry. And on a global scale, the Paris-based International Energy Agency estimates that annual additions of solar PV and wind will approach 500 gigawatts (GW) by 2030.
Much of the solar energy market’s fast track to rapid growth can be attributed to the demands of corporate net-zero targets. That includes pledges from major oil companies like Shell, which targeted becoming a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050, in step with the UN Paris Agreement on climate change. In fact, Shell has even dabbled in drones, including a test with DJI to improve efficiency and worker safety during industrial inspections and emergency incident response via a product called AI Spot-Check which was designed for drones conducting critical infrastructure inspections. The partnership also means Shell employees will develop and test advanced drone solutions for products like the DJI Matrice 300 RTK, which allows workers to automate inspections of critical infrastructure like flare tips and floating roof tanks — tasks which are otherwise difficult to conduct from ground level.
The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference was also a source of renewable energy commitments by global government leaders and well-funded organizations. That includes the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet‘s $10.5 billion pledge toward helping emerging economies adapt from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The alliance has already received $1.5 billion from the Rockefeller Foundation, Ikea Foundation, and the Bezos Earth Fund, which was created by a $10 billion commitment from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
And specifically in India, where AirProbe is located, the country committed to producing more energy through solar and other renewables by 2030 than the nation’s entire grid produces today.
That gives drone companies like AirProbe — and now DroneBase — opportunities to work in tandem with the growing solar industries. Global energy flights increased 123% and users increased 86% between 2018 and 2019, according to data from drone mapping software company DroneDeploy. And DroneBase says it expects to reach a processing capacity of 140 GW solar and wind energy annually by the end of 2022.
What the AirProbe acquisition means for DroneBase
Terms of the acquisition deal were not disclosed, but DroneBase is set to take AirProbe’s existing operations and expand them throughout Asia Pacific.
With the AirProbe acquisition, DroneBase adds another 22 GW of solar energy systems under inspection, bringing the DroneBase total to more than 59 GW of both wind and solar energy assets under inspection.
AirProbe’s founder Aditya Bhat will continue to lead teams based in Bangalore, India and will oversee operations in the APAC market.
And all that will lead to DroneBase cementing its foothold in international renewable energy inspections. That’s a big shift for DroneBase, which initially launched as a sort of drone pilot directory. Now, it’s leaning into commercial operations around the renewable energy industry. In 2020, the company launched DroneBase Insights for Wind and Solar, designed for DroneBase renewable energy clients to use drones to inspect the components of wind turbines. Later, it acquired drone data provider Precision XYZ. And in another move toward solar industry dominance, DroneBase appointed former SunEdison executive Mark Culpepper to head its solar division.
“Our mission at AirProbe has been to increase the adoption, reliability and efficiency of solar energy systems by developing the best AI-enabled software solution,” AirProbe founder Aditya Bhat said. “That aligns perfectly with DroneBase’s mission to continually deliver the best, actionable intelligence so that solar energy system operators and financiers can deliver more clean energy and grow their bottom line at the same time.”