The modern age has witnessed a massive advancement in technology over the last few years. Just about every industry you can think of has adapted to the latest technology on the market. The surge in popularity of Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles (UAV) or drones is a testament to this.
While drones have been in use for decades, it is only recently that they’ve been optimized and made affordable to the general public. In this article, we shall take a look at drones in the energy sector and the utility sector.
Drones In The Energy Sector
Considering ‘sustainability’ the crux of every energy-related conversation, there has been an emphasis on using solar panels and wind energy. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the market for renewable sources of energy like solar and wind will continue to rise. Let us take a closer look at both of them:
With the world waking up to climate change and the widespread damage caused thus far, every viable solution is being explored, one of which is the use of solar panels. However, solar panels are not easy to run and maintain. Solar farms take up thousands of feet, which makes panel inspection by workers difficult and inefficient. Drone inspection is the solution.
Drone based inspection helps workers save substantial amounts of time, allowing them to focus on more important tasks and operations. Drones are known to inspect 4000 solar panels in five minutes, whereas it could take days for workers to inspect them. Here are a couple of critical benefits of using drones for Aerial inspection:
● Drones have thermal cameras that can detect heat signatures on solar farms. They can transmit alerts to engineers if something does not function properly, making it immeasurably easy for workers to determine and solve the issue.
● Besides this, engineers can count on drones to transmit data that they can use as predictive analytics. Drones have sensors that can identify patterns in the solar panels that cause issues. Workers can use these patterns for future predictions.
If renewable energy is to replace our current energy sources, it must be made practical. This is where the drones in the energy sector shine.
Drone inspection plays a vital role in the use of wind turbines as well. However, it is much more dangerous to run and manage wind turbines than it is to handle solar panels. The primary difference between running solar panels and wind turbines is that workers have to climb wind turbines, which means there are safety concerns.
Using drones to transmit data to the workers on-ground can help curb this issue and ensure operations run smoothly, making wind energy a practical renewable energy source.
Oil & Gas
While oil is not renewable, it is currently one of the primary sources of energy in the world. Running and maintaining operations in the oil industry is incredibly challenging. Here are the primary functions of the oil and gas industry:
● Managing assets and assessing production performance
● Environmental and safety protocols
● Overall integrity
These functions are immensely difficult to implement due to a variety of complexities including, pipelines that span thousands of miles, potential exposure to hazardous chemicals and substances.
Drones can help in many inspections, including:
● Oil pipeline inspections
● Offshore oil & gas platform inspections
● Oil spill and damage detection
Drones For Utility Inspection
As you may have gathered thus far, drones offer a variety of benefits to the energy sector. But, what about drones for utility inspection? There are several electric utilities using drones like Xcel Energy, National Grid, etc., that have either implemented the use of drones or are currently testing them. Here are a few essential benefits of drones in the utility sector:
Enhanced Safety Of Inspections
Powerline inspection can be a real nightmare. Inspecting, maintaining, and renovating high voltage transmission and distribution lines are incredibly tedious, dangerous, and expensive. It is far safer to use a utility drone for aerial power line inspections, which is why utility companies are using drones to help them in their T&D operations. Industrial drone inspection is popular for the same reason.
Getting workers to inspect, fix, and maintain power lines is an enormous expense. U.S utilities spend between $6 billion to $8 billion every year to inspect and maintain their power lines using helicopters and workers on the ground. The use of drones can drastically cut costs.
Minimized Risk of Outages
As you probably know, inspecting infrastructure generally requires a shutdown. However, drones can be used to conduct inspections without having to carry out a shutdown, thus minimizing power outages.
Drones make it easy to reach inaccessible parts of high voltage power lines, which would otherwise prove to be a herculean task, especially after a storm. You can use drones to monitor substations, switchyards, transmission lines, etc. conduct routine inspections, and identify threats quickly.
Simplified Progress Tracking
Aside from saving heaps of time, minimizing risk, and increasing efficiency, drones can help you track your progress. Drones provide detailed images from various angles, helping site managers track their progress on construction projects, as opposed to using out-of-date data and incomplete plans.
Surveying Potential Sites Made Simple
Drones are capable of mapping an area’s topography and use algorithms to find potential sites for solar panels, making it possible to carry out this process in 90% less time compared to traditional surveying and design.
Considering the wide array of benefits that drones come with, it is not surprising that there are many electric utilities using drones. With features like capturing images and collecting data, you can expect an ever-increasing number of utilities and EPC companies to use drones for utility inspection and other business operations. In other words, this technology is all set to be an integral part of the energy and utilities sector.