Drone Applications in the Energy Industry

Overview of Drones in the Energy Industry

Upon its initial introduction, drones were initially built for military purposes. Since then, drone technology has become highly accessible for the average consumer, and its uses have expanded. Due to the simplicity of its implementation and functionality, drones have found a place for themselves across multiple industries. In particular, drones are also applicable in the energy industry, where they have been used in multiple innovative ways.

Traditionally, operations such as gas facilities, remote oil fields, and solar farms were inspected by planes, helicopters, and professional climbers. These practices are deemed to be inefficient and costly, as there are plenty of legal procedures that must take place prior. Drones present a series of opportunities for companies to save money on insurance and labor, enabling frequent checks resulting in more accurate reporting. Beyond this, they can provide a positive impact on the following energy generators.

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Wind Energy

When it comes to wind energy, the main priority is inspecting the blade on the turbines to ensure there is no deterioration or damage. With the speed and flexibility of drones, pilots can gain quick access and capture pixel quality images allowing users to inspect the state of the blades. As a result, there is a decrease in the need to rely on industrial climbers as they are constantly at risk of being injured. Beyond inspections, drones can be used to gather other images and data that can be used for monitoring, mapping, planning, and structural analysis. In some instances, a thermal camera can be attached to the drone which enables the identification of broken insulators or conductor hotspots. Depending on the camera, drones can be used to create 3D images so that engineers and operators can get a better view of damages, erosion, or cracks without the need to temporarily turn the turbine off.

Solar Energy

Solar panels are incredibly vulnerable and susceptible to damage due to unpredictable weather conditions, moisture, or dust. The life span of solar panels is heavily dependent on regular and efficient maintenance conducted by workers. Because these solar farms often occupy large masses of land, they subsequently cost significantly larger amounts of time and money. Traditionally, these inspections often involve operators having to do tedious and lengthy surveys conducted while manually carrying handheld infrared cameras. Another traditional method involves flying manned aerial vehicles at low levels to survey the farms with a thermal camera. Not only would this method take time and money, but it would also cost employees’ safe conditions. Upon proper utilization, drones speed up this process and at a fraction of the cost. When coupled with appropriate software, these surveys can be programmed to analyze specific types of malfunction and provide users with real-time feedback on any damage, cracks, or shading.

Oil and Gas

The oil and gas industry rely on performing consistent checks to ensure government standards are met. Similar to solar energy plants, a drone is primarily used to contact aerial inspections and detect damage, corrosion, or any other potential maintenance problems. A drone can collect footage to create high-resolution maps within a few hours while keeping operating costs low. The usage of drones in the oil and gas sector is advantageous due to the added safety factor of not having to send employees to dangerous areas. The maneuverability allows users to capture imagery from areas that are otherwise hard to reach, such as the flare stack heads.

Power Lines

Drones tend to improve power line inspections at a lesser cost and with less risk. In place of manual inspections conducted by humans, drones can quickly pinpoint damage or overgrown vegetation. Similar to previous energy sectors, the natural inaccessibility to power lines results in a heavier reliance on helicopters or industrial climbers, which are more costly. With frequent testing, operators can assess the state of the power lines as frequently as they wish. While equipped with high-quality cameras, the drone enables operators to accurately spot any abnormalities that can cause power cuts. Usually, a drone would need to be controlled; however, they can also be pre-programmed to fly to specific waypoints.

Wastewater Treatment

Drones have become extremely helpful in wastewater treatment facilities. They are used to collect and test water samples in inaccessible or hard-to-reach areas. This means that a human’s life does not have to be endangered to do the manual retrieval of the water sample to bring it back for testing. However, a drone can be programmed to meet the flexibility of the employers. For places that are inaccessible or remote, drones are programmed with a specific GPS position and are versatile enough to access the desired depth of the watercourse. At the same time, drones can test samples onboard and send data remotely, which maximizes the safety and efficiency of the whole procedure. Drones revolutionize the process of remote wastewater testing by protecting team members from deploying into harsh environments.

Garbage Collection

Instead of garbage men, a drone-guided robot can collect garbage instead. In this procedure, a drone suspends over the air of the targeted neighborhood to scan its ground mapping. In doing so, the drone scours the ground for garbage bins and possible obstructions that could impede the robot’s way in its tracks. The robot on the ground then receives the feedback from the drone and maneuvers the area with the mapping in mind.

Garbage collecting robot guided by an overhead drone

This procedure simplifies the jobs of garbage men. With the overhead drone scanning the area for collision risks, safety precautions will be taken by the robot on the ground to ensure that infrastructures and civilians are not endangered from harm.

This automation reduces expenses, especially since both the drones and robots are reusable. They make the whole procedure less labor intensive.

In conclusion, the modernization of drones has brought along a series of incremental improvements that have allowed them to be relevant in multiple aspects of life. As demonstrated in the previous applications, the primary benefit that drones bring to this industry includes safety, efficiency, and a minimization in cost. It is a technology that has already been widely implemented and will continue to find its places in this industry.

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