Drones in Power Utilities: Use Cases of Drones in Electric Transmission and Distribution

By haadshaikh
Drones provide a practical solution for the inspection of transmission and distribution (T & D) lines, as well as substations. This is a great, practical resource for anyone who is considering using drones for their utility work or is operating them and would like to learn more. 

Drones – An Introduction to the Technology for Power Utilities

The industrial adoption of drones is happening rapidly. On a global scale, power utilities and co-ops are not strangers to the technology. Drones offer a sensible resolution for the inspection and analysis of transmission and distribution (T&D) lines, along with substations. Drones support business efforts to avoid unsafe manhours; cut back prices for maintenance, inspections, and repairs; and ultimately minimize downtime. Valuable use cases for drone applications in the area can be found which have been endorsed by ground crews, linemen, plant managers, and engineers, embracing the technology with open arms.

A big concern for a country like Pakistan is the airspace regulations for drones. But don’t let ‘regulations’ get in the way of another technological revolution to set you back just yet. The regulations will come and while they are ‘on the way’, we can certainly assist utilities in following standard operating procedures and best practices for adopting the technology – safely and effectively.

DroneServ looks towards creating an awareness in adopting this technology for a better consumer experience and operational excellence when it comes to an economy-drowned country like Pakistan. With our team of skilled ‘drone’ professionals, DroneServ can assist power utilities in meeting ends which will not only cut costs but also improve the infrastructure with efficient data capture and analysis. Here’s how.

Benefits of Using Drones in Power Utilities

For firms in the energy sector, drones allow safe and efficient inspections with data collection. Drone based inspections are conducted by trained pilots and skilled data analysts to substantially cut inspection time, labor expenses, and dangerous man-hours, while also delivering high-quality data that allows a roadmap to be constructed for corporations to maximize energy output.

Drones in transmission and distribution give up new options while also replacing old, conventional methods of conducting inspections. Inspections are normally carried out manually, employing ladders, bucket trucks or via long-range photography in some cases. Manual inspections that require climbing or the use of buckets clearly pose risks that may be avoided with drones. Ground-based data collecting barely provides the level of detail and flexibility that a drone can.

 It is anticipated that the benefits and use cases for drones will expand further as the technology grows. However, at this point in time, drones have a lot to offer to the power utilities.

1. Better Data

Multi-rotor drones that are simple to use can examine approximately 8 – 12 kilometers of distribution poles every day, gathering thermal and RGB imagery. Compared to traditional ground or helicopter patrols, teams will benefit from a better level of detail – missing pins, corrosion, and broken insulators – and thermal images can instantly identify hot spots in the region. Thanks to the technology, companies can now proactively identify greater number of defects which could potentially lead to fewer power outages and reduced maintenance costs. 

2. Reduced Risk

Drone based inspections eliminate the need for climbing up poles where the maintenance teams can get up close to a defect while keeping their boots on the ground. Drones further provide access to hard-to-reach areas including right of ways and poorly maintained areas.

3. Rapid Response

Drones can provide insight of a field in disastrous situations. Access to areas may be halted by floods or even a fallen tree. Here, a drone can be deployed to collect information and allow for the right equipment and personnel to be sent to the right location – right away! This is imperative for power utilities since restoring power efficiently is usually a priority. When terrain conditions are unknown, quick response times are critical for energy utilities.

4. Boosted Efficiency

Utilities can save time with drone inspections. One drone inspection can potentially save 2 – 3 days of field work. At times approvals have to be taken before sending some up on a truck which is a process that takes days (according to a study by U.S. based Drone Service Provider, Measure). It must be noted that a substation may be inspected by a drone within an hour and no shutdown is required.

5. Quick Return on Investment

Drones are reasonably priced nowadays. The cost of equipment, training, software and support for drones pays for itself at least five times over in inspecting 100 KM of utility lines plus one substation. Operation of drones is further simple thus enabling easier adoption of the technology. 

Use Cases for Power Transmission and Distribution (T&D) Lines

Let us look at some of the contributions Drones provide to Power Utilities.

Case 1: Quick Transmission Tower Inspections

Towers regularly need to be inspected for issues. However, unforeseen incidents could cause the inspection team to be summoned. It’s usually a lineman’s job to climb up and look into the issue which is dangerous to begin with. Adding further complexities to the issue, the tower may be inaccessible in some cases.

Traditional methods call for special permissions to be taken and the power to be disrupted for the maintenance crew to climb up and run inspection activities for the specific tower. Not to forget, the inspection activity takes a while to complete when it comes to fault-finding.

With a trained pilot and a drone available, this task can be accomplished in a few minutes without any power cuts to begin with. Drones can offer close up views and even live video streams to inspection crews on the ground. There are no hazardous man-hours involved and you get a clean look of the tower in real-time. The footage can be assessed and a mitigation to the issue could be devised for the issue while you’re still at the field. 

Case 2: Scheduled Ground Patrols

During routine patrols, a team member may swiftly launch a drone to capture greater detail and identify any faults. The team can further observe things they may have missed otherwise, better define the situation, and select the best course of action, all while avoiding dangerous manhours. 

This also calls for security concerns that many energy companies have in Pakistan. Ground Patrols for security can also use drone effectively to conduct surveillance operations effectively. This is more efficient than conventional methods which involves motor vehicles and security personnel running around which is not a fool-proof method for right of way monitoring. 

Case 3: Substation Maintenance and Inspection

Drones allow you to inspect infrastructure without having to shut the power down. This contributes towards operational excellence and also a better consumer experience. Substations are usually a challenge for power utilities in such cases. 

Case 4: Disaster Response

A city like Karachi is prone to floods after heavy rains especially during the monsoon season. This leads to infrastructure damage and people getting electrocuted with the high voltage lines. At times, even towers get damaged.

Drones allow you to assess the situation better from the air than on foot. And rather than deploying a team on foot through kilometers of land to assess the damage, you take the drone and examine the region. The photographs can further be uploaded and stitched together with photogrammetry using the appropriate software, resulting in a single unified map for disaster response.

You can examine the line of devastation and the affected regions, allowing you to organize recovery measures swiftly and efficiently.

And there’s more when it comes to use cases. There are several uses for having a UAV (unmanned aircraft vehicle) and a qualified pilot for transmission and distribution. Throughout the industry, there are instances where the drone serves as an extension of oneself. Drones are merely another tool in the toolbox, just a little more efficient than others in some cases.

Where DroneServ comes in

Drones are a complex technology which requires an experienced crew to do the job effectively and efficiently. To ensure the safety of the operating crew and the equipment itself, DroneServ comes in as a drone solutions and service provider.

Not only does DroneServ provide the services covered in the use cases above, DroneServ also provides the industry with the option of transfer of technology. Transfer of technology means that we procure a fleet of drones and equipment for you to operate with a skilled crew that we help train for your inspection needs. 

Why Choose DroneServ

DroneServ consists of a team with over 25 years of experience in UAV technology which not only includes commercially off the shelf drones  but customizations, autopilots, fault identification, sensor technology and the applications of drones to meet the demands of the consumer.



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