How the Energy Industry is Benefitting from the Drone Technology
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How the Energy Industry is Benefitting from the Drone Technology

By Energy CIO Insights | Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Energy industry is highly dependent on maintenance of the infrastructure and drones are proving to be beneficial on the cost, time, and risk front.

Fremont, CA:  The energy industry is expanding at a fast pace. With the infrastructure of solar, wind, oil and gas facilities continually working, they need regular inspections to maintain safety standards to provide power effectively. However, these inspections are expensive and time-consuming to carry out. To solve this problem, drone technology is an effective alternative. With these unmanned aerial vehicles identifying the damage to wind turbines or solar panels becomes easier and can be prevented from spreading further. With the information, the abnormalities can be pinpointed, and the creation of orthomosaics, elevation data, and 3D maps becomes easier. Andrew Deakin, president of Hawkeye Drone Services, says, “As people are learning about the drone technology, they are realizing that drones are a safer and faster method of inspection.”

Wind Energy Sector

According to a report by Navigant Research, there are approximately 270,000 individual wind turbines around the world. Considering the number of wind turbines, the market is driven by giant blades, and they need to be inspected regularly. It is dangerous for industrial climbers to examine the blades. Thus, drones for wind turbines inspections are increasing significantly. The drones can get a detailed 1 mm per pixel quality image to record assets and pinpoint damage. A drone can gather information useful for monitoring, planning, mapping, and structural analysis. Additionally, a drone assists in mapping out and creating a 3D image for the engineers to understand the damage, such as cracks or erosions.

Solar Energy Sector

A solar panel’s longevity depends on regular and efficient maintenance. However, solar farms are spread over a large area of land; inspections are tedious, challenging, and consume large amounts of time and money. With a drone survey, the time and cost overheads can be reduced by 50 percent. On top of that, they assist in increasing efficiency and actively maintain the infrastructure. Traditionally, a solar inspection is conducted by tedious on-foot surveys or human-crewed aerial flights with a handheld infrared camera and a thermal camera, respectively. A drone speeds up the process without putting anyone in a risky situation. Solar panels are prone to damage quickly due to weather, moisture intrusion, or dust. Unmanned aerial vehicles can effectively pinpoint the damage and provide the operators with the latest image of damage, cracks, or shading. To ensure optimum use of a drone, a thermal camera for hot spot detection is advisable. Also, attaching an infrared camera helps in identifying the defects and temperature imbalance on solar panels, this allows operators to avert greater crisis.

Oil and Gas Sector

The Oil and Gas industry must inspect their infrastructure to comply with government standards. Realizing the benefits of drone technology, the majority of the oil and rig pipeline sites around the world are using them to their advantage. The industry is using unmanned aerial vehicles to detect damage, corrosion, and any other potential maintenance issues. A drone can effectively create georeferenced orthomosaics of the entire gas plant sites, produce high-resolution maps in a few hours without disrupting the operations and maintaining minimal costs. Pipeline inspection is also an integral part of the oil and gas industry as they are prone to leakages. An overhead flying drone can save expenses and reduce the inspection time by 50 percent.       

 In the coming years, automation is going to be an essential advancement in drone technology. Further, as clean energy continues to grow, innovative drone technologies will be equipped to improve onsite efficiency, prevent damages, and extend equipment lifetimes. The utility sector will reap the most benefits of drone technology, and experts hope that all the industries adopt this technology in the future. 

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