Drones in the Utilities Industry

Drones offer much to the Utilities Industry in terms of monitoring assets. They can do this in a safer, faster and most cost-effective way than traditional methods.

Rather than having people working at heights and the inherent risks involved, drones can perform the same tasks and at the same time generate thousands of images and films to map assets and pinpoint issues. This can be done with both thermal imaging and BIM (Building Information Modeling). BIM is an intelligent 3D model-based process that gives architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals the insight and tools to more efficiently plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure.

Utility asset management strategies focus on budget allocation, regulatory changes, customer preference and grid complexity. They are also facing reduced revenues due to energy efficiency and the increased use of renewables. Customers are demanding more for less and with increasing pressure from investors, Utilities are having to improve their knowledge of their assets in order to provide higher standards within a tighter budget.

While the drone industry can talk about ‘cheaper, faster, safer’, this has to be against a background relevant to the industry in which they are to be used.  With the time factor decreased, the regularity with which these inspections take place can be increased, providing greater conspicuity of assets. This will enable the Utility to maximise the life of existing and new asset investments, and thereby provide greater security of knowledge to their business models.

Taking a closer look at ‘cheaper, faster, safer’:

In the 2018 Industry Report: State of Drones in Big Business, which consulted US businesses with $50million or more in revenue, while only 10% of the companies surveyed were using drones already, 75% expect to increase spending on their drone programs over the next 12 months, more than 80% expect drone flights to increase year on year, and drone adoption overall is expected to double, with nearly 20% expecting to use drones in the future.

Why the popularity? According to the report, 90% companies surveyed reported the drones helped their companies capture more information (97%), be more efficient (92%), and save time (91%). In addition 88% of surveyed companies realised positive returns on investment from their drone usage within one year, many of them in less than one month.

Taking a closer look at the Utilities by type:

Water Utilities:

In 2017, Severn Trent Water estimated savings of £30,000 due to drones. In 2018, that rose to £750,000 and further savings are anticipated. They use drones now to check the optimisation of treatment processes, thermal imaging of pipes to detect leakage and creating 3D models of assets.  

 To put up a full set of scaffolding around a silo to enable a team to manually inspect it, would cost up to £50,000. With a drone, the amount of scaffolding can be reduced, as well as costs and risk.

Plus, the added bonus that the environmental impact is dramatically lessened and less wildlife disturbed. That’s good news for PR and investors.

 

Electrical Utilities:

In late 2016 a Walsall based company was fined £200,000 plus costs of nearly £60,000 due to a man falling from height from a pylon. Although the company involved had a system of work, they failed to implement, monitor and enforce this system. This failing exposed their employees to the risk of death. By using a drone, you are dramatically reducing the possibility that employees don’t follow these rules.

Drones can be used to inspect power lines and pylons for birds’ nests, lightning strikes, rust, corrosion and damaged bolts. Drones can fly extremely close to the power lines, providing high resolution images and data. One of the ways in which power lines are currently inspected is from the ground by a person. Fly a drone and you can replace best judgement with facts.

 

Gas Utilities:

Constant monitoring and surveillance are essential to assess production, environmental compliance and safety in the Gas sector. A good example of how drones can add value would be when a gas turbine site needs a five-year mandatory inspection on the chimneys. Companies can now offer internal inspection drones, which are caged drones for confined spaces where you can’t or wouldn’t want to put a human. Deployment is quicker and there’s no need for scaffolding, rope access or working at height.

 

Solar Utilities:

Solar farms can cover vast areas and require multiple people to inspect them, while at the same time the consistency of the reporting can’t be guaranteed. With a drone above, not casting enough of a shadow to be an issue, more detailed information via thermal imaging can be provided more frequently and at less cost. Previously not fully understood issues relating to the degradation of the assets can be monitored and in due course solutions found.

Wind Utilities:

Wind power delivers a growing percentage of the electricity of the United Kingdom and by mid-March 2019, it consisted of 9,685 wind turbines with a total installed capacity of over 20.7 gigawatts: 12,848 megawatts of onshore capacity and 7,895 megawatts of offshore capacity. To keep those turbines operational involves inspection, something that by the very nature of their size is hard to do unless done aerially.

In terms of structural preservation, drones can Locate surface impact, cracks and leading-edge erosion with high resolution cameras and sensors. Drones can locate defects by detecting unseen faults and overheating with thermal and corona cameras.

Nuclear Energy:

The operational standards for nuclear facilities are stringent to ensure safety as this form of power can pose significant risks to staff. There are often situations where workers are called to enter high-dose areas to ensure the safety of the plant, but drones can now take on some of those tasks and reduce risk to staff.

One of the major benefits of drone technology is that they can provide remote monitoring solutions leading to a much safer and quicker inspection method compared to the traditional methods. Drones can also supplement radiation monitoring at nuclear plants. Furthermore, UAVs can be used in disaster response and clean-up operations at nuclear facilities where it would not be safe to send a human.

Finally –

When talking to companies about drones, the drone is very eye-catching and companies have heard a bit about what they can do, but clients need more than ‘Look at our latest bit of tech’; they’re looking for end-to-end service. No two clients are the same: some have their own engineering software and departments and are looking for an infill of data; a lot would be looking for a full inspection report. A drone is a tool that needs to be used correctly for the environment in which it will operate.

Talk to ASG Ltd about training and the consultation process too to ensure you choose the right drone, train your people to a high standards and that the project works for you to fulfil your data needs.

Call us on 0800 924 7001