The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, in the energy sector is in its infancy, with many companies still unsure about the value drones could bring to their operations. But this market segment is a fast-growing infant with a potentially bright future: in a recent report, professional services consultancy PwC valued the addressable market of drone-powered solutions in the power and utilities sector at $9.46 billion.
It’s easy to see why when you look at the business case for drones across power generation, transmission and distribution. We spoke with four drone companies working in the energy sector to find out what they do, and how they think their offering can help energy firms. On the surface, these companies all do the same thing: substituting unmanned drone inspection technology for manned aerial, rope-access or on-foot inspections. But each firm is different depending largely on two factors: who their customer base is, and what they do with the data post-flight.
Mantas Vaskela is chief executive of Lithuania-based Laserpas, which uses drones to perform inspections of T&D infrastructure worldwide. He said the business case for drone use is clear "if utilities take time and reliability as a main investment criterion" and if they are willing to move "from time-based decision making to data-based decision making".
"The way transmission and distribution companies spend their money is not as maximally efficient as it could be, because the majority of what they do and the ways they invest are based on a presumption that the oldest line they have is the worst line they have," he explains. "I have seen numerous times where a ten-year-old transmission line is in horrible condition and a 40-year-old line is in excellent condition. Even small things like kids peeling off paint can create huge problems.
"With our technology, by doing analysis – thermal, laser, optical, ultraviolet and other kinds – we try to find out if this is truly the case. We can see all the various problems every single component in a line has, which allows us to tell the company This section of even a brand-new line is coming close to failure due to environmental factors.
"By providing this information we can help companies to invest more efficiently and in a way which actually delivers better results. The utility can fix something which is broken, rather than something which is just old."
Read the full article at Power Engineering.