Drones for Power Line Inspections

Jan. 13, 2015
Images from a case study of unmanned aircraft for power line inspections on the 20-kV medium-voltage distribution network in Finland.

Finnish Energy Industries and Sharper Shape demonstrated drones with advanced sensors in public test flights as part of a research project conducted with the Electricity Research Pool.

The robotic copter is equipped with a laser scanner, cameras and aviation safety systems and has the capability for long distance BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) inspection flights. The laser scanner maps the terrain and forms an accurate 3D model of the components of the power network, as well as of the surrounding buildings, forest and vegetation.

The purpose of the study was to demonstrate the technical viability and cost-efficiency of drone based inspections to the electric industry. Drones enable collecting the needed data for identifying and mitigating risks in power distribution in advance.

The public test flights were conducted with the presence of independent energy sector analyst Jouko Tervo (Reneco Consulting Ltd) and several utilities as observers. According to the results of the study, drones can be an efficient and economic method to make inspection flights for power network maintenances. The test team has estimated 50% reductions in aerial inspection costs are achievable using drones. Some further technical and regulatory development is still needed to enable fast and easy regular operations.

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