As a natural gas and electricity utility serving over one million customers in British Columbia, Fortis BC is committed to progressive energy solutions and meeting their customer needs of safely and reliably. For Fortis BC, conducting thorough inspections of their extensive facilities requires deployment of manpower over a large geographic area and expensive equipment usage. Simply imagine the amount of land in B.C. that needs to be covered by the utility grid to ensure that utility transmission lines are well-maintained and functioning in optimal conditions. With the vast amount of area needing inspection amidst rugged and remote terrain, this is no easy task.
There are significant challenges that conventional inspections face. To start, there are hefty costs associated with placing the inspectors where they can properly examine the components from all the vantage points. There are safety concerns for operating at heights that are close to energized equipment. Capturing information which which can be accurately compared over time is often difficult as well.
To address these challenges, utilities have been considering various technologies - from high resolution satellite imaging, to power line crawling robots. But one particular technology has been showing a lot of potential in recent years. Drones have the ability to safely capture detailed information from the optimal vantage point.
But until now, drone inspections have only been utilized in a few select instances for spot inspections. Without a way to automate the inspection process and manage workflow, utilities have found it hard to integrate drones into their routine inspection process.
Where Aeriosense Comes In
Aeriosense conducted a pilot project with Fortis BC in Fall 2018 to inspect a key section of a transmission line in eastern B.C. The goal of the project was aimed at understanding what are ways automated drone inspection could fit into the routine inspection program for Fortis as an alternative or supplement to the conventional inspection methods. Every utility company is different, the key is to find the right and practical solution that can be integrated with a particular inspection routine — an approach that Aerosense takes in helping its clients achieve the goals of the inspection program.
During the project a section of the transmission line was inspected and results compared to the conventional inspection conducted earlier. How does this new approach compare to the way things have been done conventionally?
“Our automated drone inspection trial demonstrated a number of benefits for assessing our transmission line infrastructure. We were able to obtain health condition details and top down vantage points that were not previously available with traditional inspections” — Manager, Engineering, Fortis BC
Aeriosense’s automated detailed inspection technology was able to provide the same quality of inspection as convention methods and in less time, with added visual angles that foot patrols would not be able to get. Drones fill a gap of capturing missing panoramic vision that conventional methods cannot attain in a cost effective way.
Utilizing automated drone inspection provides better data management and record keeping of inspection data with digitized records. This allows utility company to now have a historic view of the asset conditions to compare over time and extrapolate into the future, leading to more accurate condition predictions, better budgeting and planning.
It is Aeriosense’s vision to integrate drones into inspection programs to improve safety and cost efficiency while reducing outages and liability.