Long-range drones inspect electricity distribution assets
Australian drone manufacturer Carbonix has partnered with SA Power Networks and Nokia to radically advance the use of long-range unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in aerial inspection work and flood monitoring of remote electricity distribution network assets.
In the initial phase of the partnership, a Carbonix Volanti UAV was used to prove beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) capability using Nokia Digital Automation Cloud (DAC) for industrial-grade long-range wireless network connectivity. This paved the way for a continuation of the partnership in which Carbonix UAVs demonstrated LiDAR capabilities for maintenance and flood water monitoring at remote asset locations.
South Australia’s electricity distribution network covers an area of nearly 180,000 km2, with 30% of customers living in regional and remote areas of the state. Carbonix UAVs with BVLOS capability should help to speed up SA Power Networks’ response times to outages affecting these customers as well as asset inspection cycles, fault finding, bushfire preparedness, maintenance work and line re-stringing while improving safety and efficiency for employees.
“Carbonix long-range UAVs will enable asset owners and operators to carry out inspections on remote linear infrastructure by providing an extended flight range of over 500 km on par with helicopters at significantly reduced cost and impact on communities and the environment,” said Carbonix CEO Philip van der Burg. “The partnership with SA Power Networks and Nokia is a great testament of driving innovation in a traditionally conservative industry and we are honoured to be working with these two great companies.”
Specialised multi-rotor drones have been used for some areas of maintenance, including to help re-string powerlines over an area of sensitive native vegetation, but SA Power Networks continues to rely on helicopters for overhead line inspections. Drones provide an alternative when helicopters would not be suitable or safe to operate; indeed, the operational and environmental benefits of replacing helicopters with Carbonix drones could see up to 80% reduction in operating cost and up to 98% reduction in CO2 output compared with conventional manned aircraft.
Paul Roberts, Head of Corporate Affairs for SA Power Networks, said the business has been developing drone capability with 30 trained pilots across 30 depots already able to operate limited visual line of sight missions. With drones having already proven themselves in a range of operations, Roberts said, “We believe the full value of drones to enhance the safety of our people and improve our efficiency will come with BVLOS capability.
“This trial will help us demonstrate the value of BVLOS to aviation authorities in Australia, who currently do not approve beyond the horizon drone use.”
The successful integration of 4.9G/5G modems into Carbonix drones’ communications systems has already resulted in greater redundancy, higher bandwidth, increased coverage and lower costs to obtain real-time data from drones engaged in long-range BVLOS operations. Van der Burg noted, “BVLOS certification is a prerequisite for long-range UAV missions, allowing for more effective critical data collection, which enables better and preventative measures to enhance the safety for all stakeholders.”
“We are proud to bring our industrial-grade private wireless leadership to South Australia,” concluded Rob McCabe, Head of Enterprise for Australia and New Zealand at Nokia.
“Together with our technology partners, SA Power Networks and Carbonix, we’re exploring the advanced use of long-range connected drones for inspection and maintenance of electricity distribution networks, which will bring safer, more efficient and more sustainable operations.”
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