Application of Drones in Grid Inspection and Monitoring

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September 21, 2022




Application of Drones in Grid Inspection and Monitoring

Drones, also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs, have been around since before WWII. Like almost every technological advancement over the centuries, the drones were developed by the defense industry for its needs. However, the last decade has seen an increasing demand for drones for non-defense activities like delivering packages, filmmaking, surveying, etc. One such industry where drones have been invaluable is the power sector, where they have been used to inspect and monitor power grids.

Regular monitoring and maintenance of power lines and grids are essential to ensure continued electric supply. In most places, these inspections are conducted manually or with the help of helicopters. Carrying out routine checks in this manner is quite expensive and also very dangerous. Rough terrain and inhospitable weather conditions can make the job of power grid operators hazardous. These safety concerns also add to the total cost of carrying out power grid inspections and maintenance.

The introduction of drones for power grid inspection and monitoring has made the jobs of power grid operators much safer. In addition, drones have also helped streamline operations, making the work more efficient and cost-effective.

Drones to Automate Power Grid Inspection & Maintenance

With the help of cameras, drones can take pictures of the power grid or even share live feed of the flight back to the grid operators who are monitoring the entire operation from the safety of a control center. This allows power grid operators to inspect the power grid and perform a real-time assessment of the situation. Also, with the help of other enhanced sensor technologies, like heat sensors and infrared cameras, the drones can detect other damages to the structure like burnt insulators, bent masts and so on.

A German company, Umlaut, is currently using drone technology to solve this problem. Using drone technology, they have automated the grid inspection and reporting process. The drones follow a predetermined route to the power grid and carry out the inspection. This data is then fed back to the operators, who can then make informed maintenance decisions. Apart from a high-definition camera for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flights, the drones are also fitted with heat sensors and cameras to help with fault detection. This not only makes the work more streamlined but also reduces response time and improves customer satisfaction.

Moreover, operators can leverage the data collected during these inspections to improve the efficiency and safety of power grid operations.

Leveraging Drone Utility Data to Improve Operations

Using drones with AI capabilities can significantly streamline the grid inspection process and offer valuable insights into grid operations. They also save the operators time and ensure a safer, faster inspection process with real-time situation assessments, which are then intimated to the person in charge. Furthermore, the data collected on when and where damages to the power grid occur allow power grid operators to be more proactive, prepare maintenance schedules and take measures to ensure continuous power supply.

eSmart Systems have revolutionized how power utilities operate and maintain their transmission and distribution networks with their AI-powered grid management solution, Grid Vision. This software system is designed to help grid managers and operators track inspection work and provide the crew with real-time data on priority repairs. The data can also be leveraged to identify how often defects or damages occur, allowing grid operators to schedule maintenance accordingly. These preemptive steps enable operators to reduce costs and improve operational workflow.

Improved Access with Drone Inspection

Drones also provide access to areas that would have been difficult to reach otherwise and can function even in bad weather conditions like snow, rain, etc. Also, over the years, regulations on Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flights have eased. Although more experienced and skilled drone pilots are required for such operations, they allow access to regions that would have been too dangerous or difficult to access in person.

Delair, an industry leader in high-performance drone-based solutions, have developed drones with BVLOS flight capabilities, specifically for power grid inspection and data acquisition. Their drones can fly up to 20 KMs, and their sensors and features are well-suited for electric grid inspections, vegetation encroachment, and environmental permitting. Combined with their proprietary data analytics platform, Alteria, the drones provide a complete picture of the infrastructure’s conditions, providing power grid operators and inspectors with real-time decision-making capabilities.

End-to-end Power Line Inspections with Drones

Combining the powers of artificial intelligence, sensor technology, drones, and the human touch, an end-to-end system can be set in place that reduces outage times, improves workflow efficiency, and reduces costs. An end-to-end solution is a system that encompasses each step of the power grid inspection and maintenance process.

When the drones are dispatched, grid inspectors can follow the inspection in real-time and collect data from the comfort of the control centre. Then, leveraging the power of AI and cloud-based solutions, the data can be processed and presented to the operator in the form of a detailed analysis. Operators can create work orders based on the insights from the data, instructing relevant teams on what needs to be done. This system will also reduce safety concerns among power grid engineers as they are better prepared to tackle the problem.

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