The Implementation of Drones in the Business Model of Photovoltaic Companies

Marco Meschini & Silvia Genangeli

Student thesis: Master thesis


After discussing for days, we decided to focus our thesis on civilian use of drones for monitoring photovoltaic 1 systems, since we wanted to write something new, which nobody has ever written about. Although data scarcity and limited information availability made sometimes our research difficult, we still wanted to put some effort in a “niche” topic, in the hope that future research could be inspired by this thesis. At this point, the only decision to make was about the target market. Eventually, we decided to focus on the Italian PV industry, since this was affected by a severe crisis some years ago, and it has not been able to recover ever since. Instead of analyzing the causes that brought about this crisis, we wanted to focus more on the possible solutions for it: one of these is deemed to be the introduction of drones for monitoring activities on PV systems. In fact, the time reduction and productivity benefits that could derive by this use of drones, could let companies in the PV sector to outperform competitors; this could be done especially by the first company that adopts this technology, thanks to the first mover advantage. All these factors led to the formulation of our research question: How can photovoltaic companies successfully implement the use of drones in their business model? In order to be able to answer it, we decided to use a qualitative method and conduct a multiple case study research. We did not use a quantitative method for two reasons: the first one is that Yin (2014) states that for “How” types of research questions, a qualitative method is more appropriate. The second reason is that we are not trained to use such a method, and we would have risked making some mistakes while using it. Also time constraints and the scarce willingness of the interviewees to disclose information and to offer us their time was a limitation for our project. The research question could not have been answered without solid background theories. In light of this, the literature review was used as a tool to broaden our knowledge about topics like innovation, business models and strategy: based on the information picked 1 From now on referred to as PV 3 from the literature, we built our own theoretical framework. This talks about change in the business model and the reasons that bring to it, showing that many times profits are the guiding motivation. Furthermore, the framework also shows how sometimes it is difficult for management to see and exploit a new opportunity to change. The term innovation is also defined in this chapter, showing how drones can be considered as such; and how this new innovation is acquiring a more and more central role, so much that it is not possible anymore to talk separately of humans and machines. A last important thing to mention is the need to consider not only the internal activities, but also the external factors within the organizational environment, that can be studied through the PESTLE analysis, in order to create a suitable business model. In order to have a complete overview of the phenomenon of interest, we decided to gather both primary and secondary data, respectively through interviews and websites. With the former, we could construct the empirical framework, gaining interesting insights in both PV and drones industry. With the latter, instead, we could understand if primary information obtained were influenced by subjectivity of the interviewees or could be considered reliable, and we could gain a deeper understanding of drones and PV history and industry. We came to know that the drones companies interviewed have a different core business than the thermal drone survey; this is the reason why they do not advertise much about this service. This is proven by the fact that PV companies have a blurry vision about this service, not knowing exactly what it is about. However, the PV companies interviewed not only install the cells, but also make operations and maintenance (O&M) activities; therefore, this new application would be useful in this matter. Sometimes we have found a match between the theory and the reality, but sometimes this match did not exist. However, we came anyway to a valid conclusion: PV companies must externalize the monitoring service offered by drones, since it is a valuable contribution for company's time reduction and higher productivity. Only after gaining the right know-how, PV companies can decide to internalize the activity. We think that our thesis could be of interest for possible future researchers. As for now, nobody has written anything about drones for PV monitoring purposes, and our work can be also implemented using a quantitative method. Furthermore, the results of our thesis could be extended to other Countries and to other civilian uses.

EducationsMSc in Strategy, Organization and Leadership, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages143
SupervisorsSudhanshu Rai