Drones in the Power Industry: The Case for Resiliency

As a renewable energy consultancy, we conduct a wide variety of independent engineering and advisory work as well as delivering due-diligence inspections.  During the coronavirus outbreak, we have been busy providing data to multiple departments which has ultimately allowed them to continue operating. Whilst the situation is unsettling and highly disruptive, it has provided the stimulus to the renewables industry to look at deploying drones beyond their current primary use for wind turbine blade inspection.

As travel restrictions continue in many countries and construction sites remain closed, traditional inspection methods have been seriously impacted, but by using drones we have been able to acquire the same information from a safe distance. We recently carried out an independent engineering site visit at a windfarm in Mexico and utilised our drone technology to remotely inspect much of the site which is currently part way through construction. The resulting 3D render of the site has enabled the team to measure distances, area, and even volumetrics. All delivered collaboratively by our in-house advisory team working remotely with the drone flight piloted by myself. In fact, we were also able to review a much larger area, in a fraction of the time, whilst still providing a permanent record for the engineers to reference afterwards. All conducted without the project lead needing to leave his home in Colorado!

Furthermore, we are now developing a variety of other drone services ranging from undertaking solar PV inspections to identifying potential heat losses in district heat networks using infrared cameras. Currently, we evaluate at least 3 “new” uses for UAS technology each week including projects without the deliverable being data. Under internal review are even projects using UAS to string multiple Transmission towers over a 1/3 of a mile apart.

At Natural Power, we operate our own proprietary drone blade inspection software, Ascent. Through an innovative R&D process that took place on three continents (South America, North America and Europe), on hundreds of turbines, and with several O&M partners, we refined the application’s structure and value being offered through exceptional data deliverables. We identified and overcame many challenges in regard to navigation, automated sensor calibration, positioning systems, and computer vision. The findings demonstrate the utility of using a careful and lengthy process to adapt innovative solutions to a global industry problem, particularly the importance of obtaining feedback on the solution from the target users.

We adapted real-time

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