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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Drones take bigger role in management of global power networks

PwC says market for unmanned aerial vehicles-powered solutions is now worth $9.4bn a year

A drone at 2017 China international security equipment technology and product expo in Beijing, China. Such machines are being increasingly used in the power industry. Wu Hong/ EPA
A drone at 2017 China international security equipment technology and product expo in Beijing, China. Such machines are being increasingly used in the power industry. Wu Hong/ EPA

The growth of power transmission networks across continents has given rise to the global market in drone-powered solutions for the power and utilities industries, which, according to the consultancy PwC, is worth as much as US$9.46 billion a year.

These networks globally are forecast to increase to 6.8 million circuit kilometres by the turn of this decade, a 15 per cent rise from the 2016 level, as demand in emerging markets such as China and India rises. A circuit kilometre is 1km of electrical transmission or distribution circuitry including all necessary conductors, insulators and supporting structures required to provide a complete circuit.

A flame-throwing drone used to clear rubbish from power lines is among the extreme examples of innovative uses for technology highlighted in the PwC report titled Clarity from Above.

The production of energy is being reshaped by an increase in power generation through renewable sources and regulators across the world are increasingly concerned about reliability, offering incentives to reduce outages and imposing penalties for downtime, according to PwC.

Every year the sector loses $169bn due to network failures and forced shutdowns, which is one of the reasons why creative uses of unmanned aerial vehicles are disrupting the way companies build, operate and maintain their networks.

“The power and utilities sector faces numerous new challenges as it stands on the threshold of a digital revolution,” said Michał Mazur, the drone powered solutions partner at PwC. “Pressure to shift to renewables from fossil fuels, while reducing prices, is forcing companies to look for new ways to stay profitable. As companies reinvent their business models, drones are helping increase the reliability of energy production, transmission and distribution.”

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Other drone applications include geospatial surveys in pre-investment planning, through monitoring of the construction process and managing assets, to proactively dealing with threats such as overgrown vegetation, the report added.

“Applying drone technologies to capture a variety of data on power plants, electrical substations or power lines is becoming a change driver for the entire power and utilities industry,” said Massimo Pellegrino, a PwC partner who contributed to the report.

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