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UK Utility Uses Drones to Monitor Grid Infrastructure

image credit: SSEN
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Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN), a UK utility, is using drone technology to check up on towers and other assets in a more efficient and safer way.

The £420,000 ($556,00) program uses advanced technology to inspect and visualize SSEN’s infrastructure over 40,000 mile network, across central and southern England, which runs from the rural Cotswolds area to the urban sprawl of West London, without intrusion or inconvenience to nearby customers.

Former practice was that engineers would be required to physically climb towers to assess the state of important infrastructure. The system uses Cyberhawk drones and an application called iHawk to check on assets. iHawk is a cloud-based, IoT-enabled visualization interface that facilitates evidence-based decision making in major CAPEX projects and live assets.

SSEN engineers are responsible for maintaining and inspecting 1,524 towers across central and southern England. The Cyberhawk drone technology is deployed in a manner that minimizes disruption for customers, reduces the risks to engineers, as they no longer have to scale tall towers, and streamlines the inspection process to ensure the delivery of energy to the 3.1 million households SSEN serves in the country.

Martin Bailey, SSEN’s maintenance and inspection manager says,“SSEN’s towers, which support our overhead network, sit across all four regions of our central southern England distribution area and are positioned in various different land types and even air spaces. Prior to using the drones, we were required to climb the towers, bringing an element of risk to those involved and taking a great time to safely carry out the assessment. Most of our towers have walk in access so now only two people are required to operate the drone and this in turn results in minimal impact on the environment, and far less inconvenience for land owners and nearby residents.”

Martin continues, “SSEN is a considerate constructor, so looks for ways to reduce disruption, pollution and noise wherever possible and by using drones, we have been able to cut down on teams traveling and have [minimized] the footfall on sites of special scientific interest, industrial and housing estates and even restricted airspace sites; all while working with heightened security and ensuring the privacy of our customers.”

Cyberhawk’s CEO, Chris Fleming said, “Cyberhawk continues to support SSEN and its drives towards digital transformation and safer working. By using drones we have been able to capture inspection imagery in a systematic way whilst keeping people’s feet firmly on the ground; reducing the need for people to work at height and lessening any potential impact on the environment. We then evaluate the results in our secure cloud based asset management software, iHawk allowing SSEN to [prioritize] repairs efficiently with full visibility. SSEN has been quick to understand the benefits and is an early adopter of technology. It’s been fantastic to help SSEN improve its workflows and we look forward to helping bring further technology to their networks.”

Given the density of population in the UK, and the way that the National Grid spans a wide variety of different environments, from built-up urban areas, through farmland, forests and alongside highways, a non-intrusive method of inspecting infrastructure is going to reduce costs as well as ensuring that large plant such as cherry-picker cranes and squads of personnel are only deployed when they are needed.

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