There is an impressive increase in the application of drone technology in the energy sector.
One example is Oklahoma Gas and Electric, which plans to deploy several multi-rotor inspection drones equipped with sensors and hi-resolution cameras, to expedite post-storm assessments and pre-plan power line and wind turbine maintenance.
The energy sector continues to find new applications even though the power industry adopted drone technology early in the development of drone technology, according to Andre Louis-Ferdinand, Head of UAS Technology at Natural Power, an independent consultant and global service provider.
Andre Louis-Ferdinand makes the point that as we face ever new challenges, he has a new appreciation for the energy industry and the resilience it provides to businesses in the global sector.
He also affirms a commitment to developing resourceful solutions to enable their business to continue supporting clients and their assets, when travel restrictions have limited key personnel access to sites.
According to Louis-Ferdinand, their drone technology has continued to develop with increased resilience in several complex situations because of the ability to rapidly acquire large amounts of relevant and accurate data. In addition, because their local data processing is so fast, they are able to transmit the data directly to the relevant analyst anywhere in the world.
Louis-Ferdinand provides further insight into their approach to technology:
“We adapted real-time core machine learning technology, onboard obstacle avoidance sensors, RTK (real-time kinematic) positioning projection, and created an extremely scalable drone inspection software suite that can turn an off the shelf commercial DJI aircraft into an automated inspection solution. The initial theory behind our modest R&D project, was that approaching the problem from a practical perspective, we could create an extremely intelligent software suite that would, in effect, turn an off the shelf commercial drone into an advanced automated wind turbine blade inspection platform. While this project proved to be harder than initially thought, software, combined with a light-industrial commercially available aircraft have successfully created an extremely viable inspection solution.”*
As a renewable energy consultant, they conduct a wide array of independent engineering and advisory work, as well as delivering diligent, detailed inspections. The pandemic has given them opportunities to provide data to multiple departments, which has allowed them to continue operating.
As conventional inspection methods have been seriously impacted by travel restrictions, which have continued in many countries, and construction sites have remained closed, nevertheless, drones have been able to acquire the very same information from a safe distance.
Louis-Ferdinand shares that they have carried out an independent engineering site visit at a wind farm in Mexico and utilized their drone technology to remotely inspect much of the site, which was under construction. The 3D rendering of the site enabled his team to measure distances, area, and volumetrics, which was delivered collaboratively by their in-house advisory team that was working remotely with the drone flight which he piloted. In addition, they were also able to review a much bigger area, in a fraction of the time, while still providing a permanent record for the engineers to reference afterwards. And this was all done without the project lead needing to leave his home in Colorado.
Louis-Ferdinand shares the variety of other drone services:
“Furthermore, we are now developing a variety of other drone services
ranging from undertaking solar PV inspections to identifying potential
heat losses in district heat networks using infrared cameras. Currently,
we evaluate at least 3 ‘new’ uses for UAS technology each week
including projects without the deliverable being data. Under internal
review are even projects using UAS to string multiple transmission
towers over a 1/3 of a mile apart.”*
Drone technology and services has reached a level where they can support every level of a project.
In these uncertain times, drone technology is bringing an essential level of resilience to our services for the renewable energy sector.
Louis-Ferdinand is an inspiration to us all of what can be done when a person of vision puts feet to that vision. This is part of why there is the increasing application for drone technology in the energy sector.
Drone technology and services have reached a level where they can support every level of a project, and Louis-Ferdinanda is an inspiring example of how UAVs can bring efficiencies, new levels of safety, and conquer difficult environments.