Australia’s increasingly benign 
 environment for drones 

Innovative drone company, Aerial Power, is poised to benefit from the growingly drone-friendly environment in Australia with patent protection for its solar panel cleaning drone.

The recent easing of restrictions means that Australia has become a more attractive place to research and develop drone-based applications. The country’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) reduced regulatory requirements in September, which means that flying drones under 2kg in weight no longer need a ‘remotely piloted aircraft’ operator’s certificate.

The country has immense potential to produce large quantities of solar power and its current 6GW is expected to double by 2020 (according to the ‘Renew Economy’).

Indeed, a dozen plants that have recently been granted funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency are now in the ‘financial close’ stage, according to ‘Large Scale solar industry takes off as 12 new plants secure finance’ (the Guardian, 16 May 2017). 

If left unchecked for a month the dirt accumulation known as ‘soiling’ can reduce their energy production by up to 35%, or up to 80% following a single sandstorm. Our drone will slash the costs of cleaning solar panels by up to 60%, as our cleaning method requires no expensive installation of custom-built machinery (as happens with automated cleaning), conserves precious water by ‘dry cleaning’, and improves labour conditions and cuts costs by eliminating the need for teams of people hand-cleaning panels in harsh and dry conditions. 

Australia is relatively new to large-scale solar power production, and opened its first commercial-scale power plant in 2011. However it now has a total solar capacity of almost 6,000 megawatts, and more than 20 more PV projects are due to start producing power in 2017. 

Furthermore, the country could become a major energy exporter in the future: It  is also pursuing the export of liquid nitrogen not a fuel itself, but an ‘energy carrier’ that is thought to be the most efficient method of energy storage. A significant deal signed this January envisages shipping liquid nitrogen from Victoria to Japan from 2020, and represents a move towards the so called ‘hydrogen economy’, in which power will be created and then transported as liquid nitrogen, which can then be turned into energy.

So with the outlook for solar plant production and technology looking rosy, we are targeting the Australia for research and development of our ‘Solar Brush’ panel-cleaning drone. To this end the relevant patent (AU2015285989) has been granted by the Australian authorities, and thus we see our drone having a bright future in the country.

[Update] 01.12.2017: CASA has updated the requirements for commercial operations in the sub-2kg category. CASA needs to be notified using an Aviation Reference Number (ARN) five business days prior to flight. The number can be obtained from CASA and stays valid for 24 months. [/Update]