• Utilities turning to long-distance drones to detect and fix network problems

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

Reuters has looked at how utilities across Europe and the US are beginning to use long-distance drones to assess the condition of their power lines, a cheaper and more accurate alternative to the helicopters employed until now. Companies such as Italy’s Snam and France’s EdF have begun experimenting with the drones which they hope will improve maintenance practices and lead to fewer network outages, saving them additional money. Consultancy PWC has described the use of drones as a “game changer”, suggesting the drones might be able to fix problems as well as detect them. Grid monitoring and maintenance has become more burdensome with greater deployment of renewable power generation technologies which are typically more dispersed than conventional thermal power generation facilities. It is expected that utilities across the world will spend over US$13 billion (€11.2 billion) on drones and other robotics by 2026, up from US$2 billion now. The ‘beyond the visual line of sight’ drones that utilities are beginning to employ can, as the name suggests, function out of the sight of the drone operators, and will cost significantly more than €20,000 ($US 23,000) each. Regulation of the use of drones will need to change in many jurisdictions to enable the use of the BVLOS drones, and the European Commission is hoping to have new regulations in place by early 2019.