• Team Volar Alta

Boosting Power and Utility Sector in India Through Drone Inspections

Imagine you are rolling over the couch under the fan or air conditioner’s cool breeze awaiting your favorite movie premiere on the television. But what if suddenly there is a power cut? This is the reality that a huge chunk of the population goes through quite often. Extreme temperatures, power thefts, and faulty electricity lines are some of the reasons triggering power cut issues in India.

Despite solid progress, India still faces erratic power supplies in urban and rural areas. You are probably mistaken if you think villages are the worst-hit ones. On 19th July 2022, around 10,000 families residing in Gurugram’s Ardee City and housing societies of Sector 52 were left without a power supply for over 30 hours. It was a consequence of dysfunctionality followed by a blast in a transformer that supplies power to these localities. Mumbai also encountered a power outage of 80 minutes in various parts of the city on 26th April 2022 due to the tripping of the 400 KV Kalwa-Paghda transmission line.

Regular maintenance of power and utility plants is a painstaking process. If not done correctly, it can lead to further electricity catastrophe. So what is the solution to resolve this issue? Well, drones are here to the rescue!

Perhaps why Tata Power is deploying drones for maintaining voltage lines, preventing power shoplifting, and more. It conducted drone inspections between November 2021 and March 2022, covering Delhi’s Powerlink's Transmission line of 1,166 km. The operations and maintenance of power lines included 225 towers alongside line corridors. Will all other companies also adopt drones for power line inspection? If you consider the sizable benefits of the same, that day is not so far!

Challenges Involved in Power and Utility Sector and How Drones Help Overcome Them

India is the 3rd largest producer and 2nd largest end-user of electricity, respectively. Its installed power capacity is 401.01 GW, whereas the power consumption is projected to go up to 1,894.7 TWh in 2022. With such substantial demand, our country's power and utility sectors have many challenges which can be fixed by utilizing drones in the power sector.

1. Thorough and Regular Inspections:

The total length of the transmission lines in India as of January 2022 stood at 453,143 circuit km. With such a vast network of power lines and geographical and climatic barriers, it becomes challenging to conduct a frequent and thorough inspection. Besides, the traditional inspection is time-consuming and costly, involving a sizable workforce, low-flying helicopters, and certain safety hazards. Thus, drone usage in the power sector can put a stop to these inefficiencies and reduce downtime and costs by 30-50%.

Drones can inspect complex equipment and structures of power and utility plants which are otherwise hard to assess manually. It includes high-voltage power transmission lines, oil and gas pipelines, electricity poles, boiler tanks, energy meters, and many more. Drones can fly even above calamity-ridden spots and capture clear images for surveilling and repairing power lines.

2. Accidents Due to Lack of Maintenance:

Do you know that timely maintenance of power line inspections in India can avert tragic accidents? On 20th March 2022, a 3-year-old girl in Shamli succumbed to death after getting electrocuted by a high-tension wire while playing on her terrace. During 2021-22, around 236 humans and 88 animals lost their lives in Kerala due to electrical accidents. Similarly, around five women were burnt alive in June 2022 after high tension power lines broke and fell on a passing-by 3-wheeler vehicle in Satyasai, Andhra Pradesh.

Drones can transverse inside various electrical structures to detect any anomalies. Thus, you can recognize faults in the concrete basement of towers and their mechanical defects. Besides, drones can also perceive insulator overheating, cracks, wire slag assessment, antenna, metal rust, wire breaks and overheating. It helps the companies commence the earliest recovery work to prevent further expensive repairs and electrical accidents.

3. Ineffective Data Management:

Suppose you have identified any issue with the power line or any other component of the utility industry. Do you know the exact location of the anomaly to fix it? That is when real-time data management eases your job. Drones provide an insightful report with visual proof of damage with their exact location. With the help of the image recognition feature, data analytics software can assess 100,000 images within an hour. Eventually, it helps you find the defaults and repair them without much hassle.

4. Workers’ Safety:

Laborers, on and off-ground technicians, are exposed to hazards during the manual inspections. Likewise, the workers remain unprotected from harmful radiation while reaching interior plant areas to be inspected. During a single inspection of 1-2 minutes, the inspector is susceptible to 250 millirems of radiation, accounting for 10% of the annual radiation exposure limit.

On 1st July 2020, 6 workers passed away, and 17 got injured due to a boiler explosion at NLC India Limited’s thermal power station in Neyveli, Tamil Nadu. Drone minimizes human involvement during the inspection to enhance the on-site safety of the staff.

5. Power Theft:

In 2015, India’s electricity losses amounted to $16.2 billion, of which Maharashtra alone contributed $2.8 billion.The overall losses for distribution and transmission Pan-India are nearly 23%. In contrast, some states' losses went up to 50%. Such figures indicate that power theft is a serious issue in India. Drones are equipped with sensors that detect when someone is tampering with a facility's power grid. They can sense any irregularities in the meters and the electricity supply.

Which is the Best Drone for the Power and Utility Sector?

The best drone for utility inspection should have a 4K high-definition imaging system and thermal cameras to locate the hot spots and other defects. In addition, the drone should have LiDAR sensors for real-time and 3D mapping to inspect the transmission lines, towers, and pylons.

Generally, high-voltage applications are prone to corona discharge, which leads to energy wastage for the utility sector. It takes place in the UV spectrum; hence the drones decked with UV cameras can spot and restrict the corona for further recovery.

The Final Words

A drone for power line inspection provides a 360-degree view of the entire line with a live feed of how much damage is on the power lines, transformers, substations, and pipelines. As the world is shifting towards renewable energy, efficiency in the power distribution system is necessary. Drone inspections offer a cost-effective way to inspect the power and utility sector equipment to combat glitches, avoid major accidents, and ensure consistent energy supply.

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