Students learn about drones at NIU STEM Fest – Agri News

Bill Badnaruk flies a drone in a special cage area during the NIU STEM Fest 2021. The drone specialist uses drones to evaluate solar and wind projects for Enel Green Power, which owns and operates renewable energy systems in 10 states and two Canadian provinces. (AgriNews photo/Martha Blum)
DEKALB, Ill. — Piloting a drone was one of numerous activities students had the opportunity to experience during the NIU STEM Fest 2021.
The event, held on the campus of Northern Illinois University, celebrates science, technology, engineering and math with hands-on activities, exhibits and talks.
Drones have been utilized by the Enel Green Power company for several years.
“We’ve started experimenting with drones in 2016 and they have been a component in our operations and maintenance since 2018,” said Bill Badnaruk, drone specialist for Enel Green Power.
Badnaruk conducted a drone demonstration in a special cage area during the NIU event.
“We use drones in our solar and wind operations and we also use them in the engineering and construction phase,” Badnaruk said.
“One of unique things we do is crop damage assessments when we’re building roads for the wind installations,” he said. “We catalog how much crop damage occurs to make sure the land owners are appropriately credited.”
Thermal cameras on the drones are used to find problems on solar panels.
“The thermal camera can easily see outages, bad cells or any issue we have on a solar farm,” Badnaruk said. “We can see what’s going on at the site faster and more efficiently with a drone.”
For wind systems, Badnaruk said, drones are used for spot inspections.
“The wind turbine blades can crack, so we use the drones to catch that early to make repairs,” he said. “We want to make sure our assets are running as safe as possible.”
Finding inefficiencies with the drone cameras helps to make the company’s sites more reliable to produce additional energy for a longer time.
“If one of the wind turbine blades suffers damage or is out of balance, that will affect everything attached to the wind blade such as the bearing system or the generator,” Badnaruk said. “And that will accelerate wear and other issues.”
The engineering team for the company uses drones for mapping.
“We use can use artificial intelligence to account for the difference in change,” Badnaruk said. “We can look at a map from this week compared to last week and identify the change which helps us get a view of the progress.”
For surveying purposes, Badnaruk said, drones can identify site boundaries to make sure the project is built to the plan.
“I love my job,” he said. “I’m very happy to be part of green energy and it’s very rewarding to increase efficiencies and production through technology.”
With the thermal camera on the drone, the heat signature of everything the drone is looking at is displayed on the monitor including the person standing in front of the drone. (AgriNews photo/Martha Blum)
Enel Green Power has solar and wind projects in 10 states and two Canadian provinces.
“We are developing two solar projects in Rochelle, two in Marengo and one in Cherry Valley,” said Emily Skill, development manager for the company.
“As we bring these projects to the communities we like to partner with universities to help enhance existing renewable energy programs or to help create renewable energy programs from specializing in drones to wind technology to solar,” she said.
Partnerships are really important to the company, Skill said.
“We want to make sure we’re building projects that have a co-benefit so not only our company benefits, but also the communities nearby,” she said. “Those partnerships are critical for our industry and success as a company.”
Enel is in the early stages of development for a wind project in Lee County.
“We are partnering with local organizations, 4-H, community colleges, afterschool programs and athletic programs to help provide funding and also provide opportunities to learn about our business and provide jobs to those interested students later in life,” Skill said. “We have a circular mindset of when we’re building a project we also need to educate the community about it and provide jobs to work at the sites.”
At a solar project in Minnesota, beehives have been established at the site.
“There are also a lot of pollinating plants there and we have sheep grazing at the site,” Skill said.
“For our Illinois projects we have an intense conservation plan and we are working with third party consultants to help us identify the types of plants that should be planted to insure we’re giving back to the soil,” she said. “That’s really important to our company and the community.”
For more information about Enel Green Power, go to
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Copyright © 2021 All rights reserved. Published in La Salle, Illinois, USA, by Shaw Media.
Copyright © 2021 All rights reserved. Published in La Salle, Illinois, USA, by Shaw Media.