Today, anyone can purchase a drone. The selection of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) targeted for the private and the commercial market is growing. Knowing that the first UAV was designed and planned as early as during World War I, drone technology has come a long way, and the number of areas where drones are utilized, is growing.
Construction companies use drones to inspect new grounds, real estate agents use them to photograph properties, and farmers use drones to inspect their crops. If your primary goal is a visual overview of your grid, a drone with a camera is all you need. If your goals include preventative maintenance, reduced outage times and costs and improved worker safety, a drone alone will not suffice.
Power line inspection methods today commonly rely on helicopters or manual procedures where operators inspect the grid on foot and climb masts to inspect components. Some utility companies, however, are already using drones. Camera-equipped drones systematically photograph your grid. Analysis of the data drones gather is hugely time-consuming when done manually. Moreover, no matter how experienced your crew is, the risk of human error is always present. When a failure or maintenance need is identified, operators must then be dispatched to do the actual repairs. This process may take months. Implementing drones to carry out the actual inspection of your grid can be both time- and cost-effective, if you pair it with the right components. In fact, drones can potentially reduce outage costs by up to 60 percent.
More Than Just a Drone
Contrary to what some might think, a drone is only an isolated feature in a successful, efficient and complex power line inspection process. There are greater and much more valuable advantages to drone-based line inspections than not having to send inspectors to manually inspect your grid. Seizing these advantages, however, is only possible when drones are integrated into an end-to-end system.
An end-to-end system consists of software, communications solutions, intelligent sensor platforms, different drone types for various inspection and maintenance purposes, and a mobile operations center. This holistic system, called an intelligent Asset Performance Management (iAPM), is comprised of three principal components essential to utility power line inspections:
- Asset Performance Management (APM): APM is an emerging field of technologies and strategies which promises to increase grid stability and cut costs. With more and more devices connected to the Internet – the Internet of Things (IoT) – APM is a strategy to capture and analyze component data and transform it into actionable insights.
- Big data analytics and artificial intelligence: The ability to process, store, and analyze vast amounts of data from a wide variety of information sources is critical to Asset Performance Management implementation. Unlocking efficient data collection and analytics across various data sources requires a Big Data platform with artificial intelligence analytics capabilities. In effect, this means a solution that can handle massive amounts of complex data, and rapidly recognize thousands of objects and potential errors and faults. By utilizing artificial intelligence, it is possible to create intelligent assistants trained to carry out specific tasks needed in your inspection. As an example, an AI-based assistant can analyze 100,000 power lines images in less than an hour.
- Communication and sensors: Sensors are the backbone of the Internet of Things, and is the hardware that monitors asset health, takes measurements, and collects data. Ideally, you should have access to advanced drone sensors designed for the various operations and purposes in your power line inspections.
Using a drone to inspect your power lines also offers major Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) advantages. Because a drone can carry out its operations regardless of weather conditions and type of terrain, it will significantly reduce the risk and safety hazard for your ground crew.
How Does It Work?
When you have implemented an end-to-end system, power line inspection work as follows: As you dispatch the drones, you can follow their inspection in real-time, and receive data instantly. The mobile operations center, receiving information from the drones and armed with a cloud-based solution, is equipped to instantly present you with an analysis of the data your drone just gathered. Access to the grid’s current status, with faults and maintenance needs defined, allows you to begin repairs immediately. The ability to detect and repair faults or damages swiftly will reduce power outage downtime, especially in emergency situations, such as in the event of a natural disaster.
As Jeff Lewis, Managing Director of Accenture Utilities, says: “When coupled with artificial intelligence (AI), this drone-based approach to visual surveillance and data gathering revolutionizes the inspection process.”
Laws and Regulations
Operating an unmanned aerial vehicle comes with responsibility and a list of legal requirements to ensure safe practice. As drone technology develops at full speed, laws and regulations are changing continually. Make sure you keep up with the newest regulations from your government and, if you are planning to take your drone operations out of the country, Global Drone Regulations Database gives you an idea of applicable rules in other countries.
One Piece of The Puzzle
A first-class end-to-end system will provide utilities with an effective tool for drone operations. When integrated, the end-to-end components function as an ecosystem of cooperation and ensure an effective and efficient way to carry out your power line inspections. In addition to seeing drones along your power lines, you will start seeing lower costs, safer work procedures, and, consequently, better overall results for your company.