Automatic detection of solar photovoltaic arrays in high resolution aerial imagery

Jordan M. Malof, Kyle Bradbury, Leslie M. Collins, Richard G. Newell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

127 Scopus citations


The quantity of small scale solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays in the United States has grown rapidly in recent years. As a result, there is substantial interest in high quality information about the quantity, power capacity, and energy generated by such arrays, including at a high spatial resolution (e.g., cities, counties, or other small regions). Unfortunately, existing methods for obtaining this information, such as surveys and utility interconnection filings, are limited in their completeness and spatial resolution. This work presents a computer algorithm that automatically detects PV panels using very high resolution color satellite imagery. The approach potentially offers a fast, scalable method for obtaining accurate information on PV array location and size, and at much higher spatial resolutions than are currently available. The method is validated using a very large (135 km2) collection of publicly available (Bradbury et al., 2016) aerial imagery, with over 2700 human annotated PV array locations. The results demonstrate the algorithm is highly effective on a per-pixel basis. It is likewise effective at object-level PV array detection, but with significant potential for improvement in estimating the precise shape/size of the PV arrays. These results are the first of their kind for the detection of solar PV in aerial imagery, demonstrating the feasibility of the approach and establishing a baseline performance for future investigations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-240
Number of pages12
JournalApplied Energy
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • Detection
  • Energy information
  • Object recognition
  • Photovoltaic
  • Satellite imagery
  • Solar energy


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