Drones are poised to reinvent the manner in which members of the energy sector conduct inspections as a new UAV scheme takes to the skies.
The large-scale project, Pathfinder, is working across electricity and gas networks and is coordinated by international innovation scout, the Energy Innovation Centre (EIC).
The three-year programme is being led by Wales & West Utilities in collaboration with Cadent, National Grid Gas Transmission, Northern Gas Networks, Northern Powergrid, Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks and UK Power Networks.
The designated government Pathfinder project, which is the first-of-its-kind in the UK, will work with the CAA to explore how the application of drone technology could transform the way the industry carries out essential maintenance tasks.
Tony Knowles, technical manager at the EIC, said: “We knew that the only way to fully realise the financial, environmental and health and safety benefits of using drones across the gas and electricity networks was to create a universal, cross-network, cross-utility framework for operations, endorsed by the CAA.
“In order to secure this, meaningful project-based collaboration is critical. Our open approach and commitment to shared learning via this project will deliver value for money, ultimately driving down energy costs for UK consumers.”
To fully realise the benefits that drones can bring to routine network tasks such as pipeline or overhead line inspections, there is a requirement to fly BVLoS.
The CAA has stated that its regulations would support the flying of drones BVLoS but there is currently no acceptable means of compliance for ‘business as usual’ BVLoS operations. This project will focus on the creation of a comprehensive operational framework, including safety cases for specific network operations, that has been approved by the CAA.
The project has the potential to deliver significant financial savings and data quality improvements.
Wiltshire-based aviation specialists, Callen-Lenz, which was selected via a call for innovation from the EIC, will be responsible for creating the project’s operational framework and will seek to prove a range of applications through practical demonstrations and flight trials.
Lucy Mason, Wales & West Utilities innovation manager, added: “BVLoS flight will bring real benefits to gas and electricity networks. It will help us to maintain our infrastructure in a safer, more cost effective way, so we can all continue to deliver for customers.
“Getting the endorsement of the CAA to use drones for routine and non-routine inspections will be a key step in making BVLOS flight ‘business as usual’ and will underline the innovative approach the utilities industry is taking to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.”