National Grid uses drones to monitor HV networks

National Grid UK has trained a team of drone operators to monitor its high-voltage electricity networks.
Published: Tue 13 Jun 2017

National Grid will be deploying drones in the UK over the next few months to save time and money on network monitoring. The utility normally uses helicopters or erects scaffolding to carry out checks on its approximately 7,242km of high-voltage overhead power lines and about 330 substations in England and Wales.

New technologies to promote safety and efficiency

The utility has been using contractors to take video footage of its pylons by drone but said it was now extending its operations by developing its own in-house capability. Several personnel members have been trained up in drone operations and the utility is keen to purchase its own fleet fromd rone manufacturer DJI.

A spokesperson for National Grid told The Times newspaper: “Helicopters aren’t ideal for use over built-up areas or motorway crossings and horses are particularly sensitive to helicopters and so drones could be used in these locations."

Leading the project is Mark Simmons, OHL Condition Monitoring Team Leader at National Grid, who said: “We are constantly looking at new technologies to help us keep our networks operating safely and efficiently.

“Drones let us look at parts of our network which are difficult and costly to reach and where doing so would expose our engineers to risk.”

Drones to carry infra-red tech

National Grid plans to use the drones to carry infra-red equipment to "'identify hotspots on transformers” and could also inspect equipment at height which will avoid the need for scaffolding or cherry pickers.

The utility has started using a drone in its gas transmission networks business, which includes almost 7,724km of high-pressure pipelines and 23 compressor stations.

Simmons said drones have already “contributed greatly to our understanding of the condition of our equipment on sites and across the country”.

Drones creating a proactive business

With tight profit margins and safety a major concern when it comes to distribution, drones ensure both efficiency and situational awareness. Drones create the ability to identify easily avoidable problems on the horizon.  

With the need to stay proactive also comes the need to be quick and efficient. Compared to traditional, more manual methods of data capture, utilities can now obtain the data they need from their drones more quickly.

In addition, the data and images captured by the drones can be sent to the drone's web application in moments, which utilities can now use to quickly assess issues accurately and collaboratively develop preventative methods.