The future of aviation is unmanned. But unmanned aerial vehicles – or drones – are not just of interest to the aviation industry. Nearly every industrial and commercial sector has been experimenting with drone technology over the past 5 years, and now drones are steadily being introduced to replace less efficient practices. This is no more true than for the energy sector, where day-to-day operations centre around inspection, monitoring, and maintenance of extensive infrastructure networks – from platforms to pipelines to powerlines – that are often difficult and/or costly to access.
UAS Norway host drone workshop
UAS Norway (Norway’s drone interest organisation) recently held their fagdag, “droner på nett”, at SINTEF in Trondheim. The workshop brought together industry representatives, researchers, commercial drone pilots, and interested onlookers to discuss the particular challenges and opportunities for drones within the energy sector in Norway. For developers of drone technologies, it was a great opportunity to hear first-hand from end-users of drones within the energy sector about their experiences, successes, and difficulties as well as opportunities going forward.
Attendees heard from net owners Hålogaland Kraft, TrønderEnergi, and Statnett – who all employ drones as part of day-to-day operations for tasks such as inspecting pylons, lines, and components for damage, monitoring vegetation encroachment along infrastructure corridors, and raising new lines over pylons.
Two current challenges that were identified were the standardisation of drone technologies and performance across suppliers that would more easily allow smaller industry players to contribute new technologies without having to supply an entire drone ecosystem; and flexible automatic analysis software and onboard AI that would allow for more intelligent capture and processing of data and reduce manual workloads and costs.
Norway is at the forefront of drone utilization
Development of drone technology is advancing rapidly, and Norway’s energy sector has been at the forefront globally in terms of trialling and adopting new drone technology. This trend is set to continue with Statnett announcing 3 large R&D projects focussed on drones and AI for smarter inspection and monitoring of infrastructure, including a project with SINTEF in consortium with Nordic Unmanned and KVS Technologies that will develop prototypes for an autonomous drone-based solution enabling Statnett to perform regular inspections and respond immediately to critical events at any of its remote substations around Norway, 24/7/365.
Drones are playing an important role in the digitalisation and optimisation of operations within the energy sector, but they are only part of the equation. SINTEF hosts The Centre for Intelligent Electricity Distribution (FME CINELDI) that has a long-term focus on enabling efficient grid technologies and solutions. With a budget of about 360 MNOK and a constellation of private, public, and international partners, CINELDI will help realise a more flexible and robust electricity distribution grid for the future.