The Use of Drones in the Energy Sector

Scientists and energy experts are constantly on the look out for new ways to improve the energy sector. Storage is a hot topic right now as is the new mega-turbine Haliade X that was unveiled by General Electric last year. But, perhaps one of the most interesting developments to be taking place right now is the increased use of drones in the energy arena.

Utilities are currently investing time and money into long-distance drones that can fly over thousands of miles worth of energy grids and pinpoint damage or problems that need to be resolved. The aim is for the drones to be able to send data back to a designated headquarters, which can then dispatch a team of engineers to fix the issue as quickly as possible. Done correctly, the use of drones could save utility companies billions of dollars every year.

So far, there have been some successful attempts at launching this kind of drone. The drone needs to be capable of travelling long distances beyond the line of visual sight. These are known as BVLO (beyond the line of visual sight) drones. France’s RTE, a subsidiary of EDF, has said it will be investing just a little shy of €5 million in drone technology over the course of the next two years.

Up until now, energy companies have been using helicopters and short-range drones to inspect their grids. The introduction of long-distance drones could be a real game-changer. The drones would be a hundred times faster than doing the measurements manually and if the drones are equipped with artificial intelligence, they could be eventually capable of solving the problems on their own, without the need for human intervention.

By 2026, power grid companies around the world hope to be investing cumulatively around $13 billion a year into drones. While this might seem like a lot, it is nothing compared with the estimated $170 billion the companies lose each year as a result of network failures and shutdowns caused by grid disruptions.

The world might seem bright for drones but there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the future of drones in the energy sector. Currently, there are heavy safety regulations prohibiting the use of BVLO drones. Given that the drones fly out of the sight of the controller, there are serious safety concerns. However, that does not mean the idea is dead in the water. In fact, far from it. European authorities recently granted some major European utility companies special permits to allow them to trial their prototype drones.

Now that the use of drones in a civilian environment is becoming a more realistic possibility for the near future, the European Commission is working on regulations to dictate how such drones are to be used. Until the regulations have been decided and enacted, it will be difficult to predict the adoption rate of BVLO drones by power companies, or even whether or not the idea will continue to fly.

If the drones are given the go ahead by the powers that be and are taken up by utilities around the world, these companies will be able to save huge amounts of time and money. With a more efficient way of patching up leaks and fixing problems, we can count on better energy security and fewer environmental disasters.