Today we hear a lot about drones. What we don’t hear a lot about is their vital role in the energy sector. However, this industry is growing more dependent on them to help with inspecting distribution networks, power plants, pipelines, rigs and energy companies. They’re replacing humans in this regard, which is increasing safety in the workplace – especially when it comes to dangerous tasks.
There are many ways in which drones are being used in the energy industry today. These ways are proving very beneficial. However, their benefits are also very individualized.
Before drones were created, engineers engaged in a lot of long, hazardous jobs on a routine basis. A great example of this was the inspection of the 70 meter-tall flaring stack at Shell’s Ormen Lange gas processing plant in Norway. The plant had to close down for two weeks to conduct this inspection. Now, thanks to drones, the plant no longer needs to close for this inspection. Inspectors simply stand on the ground and pilot the drones for a few hours. These drones have a lot of sensors, high-definition cameras, laser scanners, and radars that can detect security issues, vegetation encroachments, leakages, and both hot and cold spots. This saves time and money for everyone involved.
The Raven drone was created by General Electric. It replaces staff who’d otherwise have to walk around oil and gas wells with infrared cameras in search of any leaks. This drone has laser-based sensors. It flies over a whole gas field in just 40 minutes relaying information to an engineer’s tablet computer.
Britain’s power and gas transmission operator, National Grid is experimenting with drones to inspect its installations near motorways, horses and in urban locations as well as in high substation sites where there aren’t any scaffolding or cherry pickers. These drones carry infra-red equipment that’s used in finding hot spots on transformers. They improve operations by making them much more efficient.
In Chicago, Peoples Gas is using drones to find methane gas leaks along its 14,000 miles of natural gas distribution pipelines.
Drones play an important role in monitoring solar power installations. They can quickly find solar panels that aren’t producing power. Yes, Energy Solutions uses this technology in Yorkshire England to find any panels that have damage or obstructions.
Sun Power in Oregon is using drones to survey locations where they could install new energy infrastructure. These drones can map the area’s topography. They can use the software’s algorithms to find the best place for each panel in their Gala Solar Farm. This takes 90% less time than traditional surveying and design procedures.
Not only can drones measure progress in real-time, but they can also improve safety while saving time and money too. Sky Filming monitors the construction progress of the biomass power station in Kent, England.
Sock-pulling is a dangerous part of transmission line construction. It involves using helicopters to fly and attach ropes to pylons. Linemen must then climb these ropes, which is risky for their safety. Drones eliminate this dangerous task.
Sharper Shape has been developing sensors for SkySkopes’ drones. They’ve created a fleet of drones that can handle this work, handing the cable to the linemen for stringing outboard and center lines. This doesn’t only improve safety, it also cuts down on operational costs saving as much as $4.5 billion by 2025.
Drones are quite beneficial to the energy industry today. They make the industry 85% faster and less expensive than what humans can do. At the same time, they also save millions of dollars in lost production output.