Queensland regional electricity distributor Ergon Energy is moving closer to operating Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to carry out inspections on its assets, including poles and wires, and substations.
UAV technology won’t negate the need to climb a pole, but it will play a significant role in deciding if the pole has to be climbed in the first place. It’s a less invasive and more economical asset inspection option, which aligns with the company’s strategy to seek out ways to reduce operating costs and contribute to easing upward pressure on electricity prices.
Energy solutions manager business development Marcus Leaver said the company is in the final stages of attaining the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s (CASA) Unmanned Operators Certificate, which is one of two certificates required for commercial use of UAVs.
Ergon’s UAV of choice is the AscTec Falcon 8 and the company’s Energy Solutions UAV team has trialled the technology, using a third-party operator with good results.
After carrying out 1600 pole-top inspections using UAVs, Ergon Energy has predicted the drones will be able to carry out between 60 and 100 inspections in one day. This is significantly more than the 10-15 inspections per day able to be carried out using traditional Elevated Work Platforms.
Eight battery-powered motors mounted on the UAV’s carbon fibre skids – that point outwards to maintain a clear photographic field of view – form the light-weight but robust platform. The unit is electromagnetically protected and can hover 5m from an asset without compromising the quality of images captured with a zoom lens.
The UAVs can carry up to a 1kg payload and includes GPS receiver, camera stabilisers, high-definition camera gear (video and/or still), and a battery that can keep the Falcon 8 aloft for up to 15 minutes.
Applying the innovative technology is also likely to provide opportunities for staff. There are employees who already hold the second mandatory ticket – the UAV controller’s certificate – while others from a range of trade backgrounds have expressed interest in one day flying a UAV for the company.