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5 ways drones can be used for inspection of power transmission lines

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Chris Patchell's picture
GM & Director of Operations Avian Australia

Chris Patchell is the General Manager & Director of Operations at AVIAN Australia. He is an avid drone enthusiast and loves innovative technologies. Chris is highly motivated and has a very...

  • Member since 2021
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  • Sep 17, 2021

Drones have been around for a while now, becoming an important part of construction projects, mining sites, power line inspections and more. 

Power line inspections are expensive, time taking and quite a cumbersome affair. Traditional surveys are carried out in two methods- land or aerial inspections. Manually inspecting power lines might take days. Not to mention the life-threatening risks that workers have when they climb up poles to check on electric wires and connections. 

The terrain and topography of the land also hinders the survey. In such a scenario, aerial asset inspections are a smarter alternative. 

On site managers earlier turned to helicopter-based power line inspections. And while helicopters were better than manual surveys, it still posed a lot of problems. Helicopters are noisy, expensive and not good for the environment. Plus the operational and maintenance costs can really add on to your budget. 

Drones, in comparison, are a cheaper, lightweight, portable and eco-friendly solution. These little flying machines are also quieter and can reach narrow spaces, towers, underground pipelines and more. 

Also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), drones are being widely adopted by energy and utilities companies for a variety of applications. 

Fixed wing drones are considered to be the most popular for power lines inspections. You would need a drone operator and drone pilot to help you run and survey the site. 

Here are a few advantages of using drones for inspecting transmission lines that you can check out: 

  • quick overview and site evaluation 

  • sharp aerial photographs of power line defects

  • high quality images and video

  • preventive maintenance and planning

  • access to hard to reach areas

  • reduced downtime

  • high level of personnel safety.

Drones are a practical solution for surveying of transmission and distribution (T&D) lines as well as power substations. It is a great support for tracking on site maintenance activities, minimizing downtimes, reducing costs and more.


Preventive maintenance 

Power lines and power pylons require regular monitoring and maintenance. But drones are not just used for damage detection. UAVs also help detect any obstacles that might hinder the power lines. This would include bird’s nest, rusting, damaged bolts, corrosion etc.

Using drones you can detect any obstacles or possible errors in the design beforehand. Drone tech when combined with 3D digital visualisation can help surveyors get a clear picture of the power grid without actually physically visiting the site. 

This is crucial for grid inspectors as they can predict issues and resolve them on time. 

Better Data Accuracy 

Fixed wing and multi rotor drones are easy to use and can get the surveying job done within a few hours. 

Depending on the project needs, drones can easily cover 5-6 miles of power poles in a day. The aerial footage thus captured can be stored as thermal or RGB imagery. 

Using these aerial insights, your team can then detect the little errors and damages on the poles. So a rusted bolt, a crack, a loose wire, missing pins and damaged insulators are easier to detect.  

Detecting these damages early on can save you quite a fortune as your team can then repair it on the go. This also significantly prevents the risks of major power breakdowns, short circuits, fires and other such hazards. 

Improved Energy Efficiency

It is no hidden fact that drones can save you time and money. But did you know that drones are also energy efficient? 

Drones are an eco friendly alternative compared to a helicopter which consumes massive amounts of fuel, is noisy and releases a ton of toxins in the air. 

Also, because drones are so lightweight and portable, you don't need to shut down the entire power station on inspection day. The entire operation can be completed within an hour with all the substation activities uninterrupted. 


Reduced Worksite Risk

This again is an obvious but one that I would like to stress upon again and again. Drones can really reduce worksite risks and accidents. You no longer have to send up workers climbing on power poles to check for any rust or corrosion. 

Drones can effectively capture clear and detailed images and video footage of the power poles, transmission lines and wires from multiple angles. And using the drone data, surveyors can then generate 3D models of the power poles! 

These 3D models offer a 360-degree holistic view of the site which is accessible from different perspectives. 

Fast Response and Reduce Downtime

Drones are a big part of disaster management and repair work. In terms of power line inspections, this could be a complete game changer. 

So, with drones you can get invaluable insights after a natural disaster such as thunderstorms or torrential rains. In such a situation, even a minute’s delay can cost you loss of life and property. 


Hiring the best drone operator

Drones can give you real-time insights of the site, streaming live geo-tagged feed to your system. Using drones, you get quicker access to areas that may be blocked by water or fallen trees. 

Drones provide safe, efficient inspections and data collection for businesses across the energy industry. I would highly recommend that you consult a professional drone operator for the job.

Talk to the drone service provider about drone solutions that are customised to your unique project needs. Usually, the drone pilot conducts a physical inspection of the site before giving you the budget estimate.

The cost of hiring a drone service provider depends on the topography, site area, survey data accuracy among other factors. Ensure that these drone pilots are all certified by CASA to handle commercial projects.

With a professional drone pilot on board, you don't have to worry about any on-site damages and delay in data collection.  

Drone operators use surveying equipment such as HD cameras, thermal sensors, 3D LiDAR scanners etc to collect site data.  is then exported to a photogrammetry software where it is processed and made accessible. 

3D drone mapping helps recreate the site digitally and gives you more access to the on ground situation from multiple angles. Not to mention drones are 10x times more accurate when it comes to collecting site data. 

With trained pilots and data analysts on board, a surveyor can easily reduce inspection time, save on labor costs, maximize energy production and overall efficiency of the power station. 

Chris Patchell's picture
Thank Chris for the Post!
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Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Sep 17, 2021

A great use of a growing simple technology. Kids playing today may find they are developing skills that can help with a job. That is a great way to get students interested in the S.T.E.M. technologies that are in big demand.

Paul Korzeniowski's picture
Paul Korzeniowski on Oct 12, 2021

New technology provides utilities with the opportunity to rewrite inefficient business processes. Power line inspection has long been a tedious and often dangerous task. Sending a drone out rather than a technician seems like a cost effective alternative, one that energy companies may want to closely examine. 

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