Engerati’s Week In Energy – Drones and Robots Aid Utility Automation

Published: Mon 20 Apr 2015
A blog entry by Jonathan Spencer Jones

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Jonathan Spencer Jones
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With technology developments bringing down the size and cost of drones, they are fast becoming an increasingly cost effective tool for a range of monitoring and mapping applications.

The utility potential of drones has been recognized since the pioneering studies by EPRI as far back as 2000, in which interestingly no less than 39 different models of drones were recorded. At that time these were generally winged craft operable at high altitude. In contrast the latest generation of drones are small and light and thus highly controllable for low altitude use. This is improving their value to utilities, with their ability to get in and around otherwise harder to access areas of the network – as San Diego Gas & Electric and Commonwealth Edison are currently demonstrating. [Drones Coming For Utility Network Monitoring]

It isn’t only aerial-based operations that are benefitting from such automation. We recently reported on plans to use robots to deploy microgrids. [Robots Coming To Deploy Microgrids] And ComEd is also investigating the use of underground robots in its manholes. Manholes present significant risks to workers and ComEd envisages that initially a robot could be deployed ahead of workers going into high risk manholes, before being used more routinely as the application of the technology advances.

Such automation offers considerable potential for utilities. But notably the majority of the developments appear to be taking place in the US and we haven’t heard of any in Europe for example. Please let us know of any plans or activities involving the use of drones or robots in the energy sector in other parts of the world.

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