Drones delving underground

Louise Smyth

We’re getting used to seeing them fly high in the sky, and now high-tech drones are also delving deep underground to help maintain power supplies.

UK Power Networks, which runs power supplies for 8.3 million homes and businesses across London the East and South East, has invested in cutting-edge ‘inspectors’ in collaboration with global energy and water knowledge enterprise Enzen. Teams in London have been trialling use of the sphere-shaped drones, equipped with lights, to inspect electricity cables in underground tunnels and shafts.

The process is safer and more cost-effective than sending engineers to patrol underground, which involves erecting scaffolding so they can enter tunnel shafts safely to inspect hidden equipment under the city streets.

The new Aerial Asset Inspection solution has seen Enzen deploy lightweight drones to capture data and a clear picture of what condition the cables are in, so maintenance work can be planned effectively. Each drone measures 40cms across and weighs about 750g.

It means that UK Power Networks’ Capital Programme team, and the contractors they work with can accurately capture quality data quickly, centralise their inspection records and improve the network’s performance to help keep power flowing smoothly.

Liam O’Sullivan, head of programme management and delivery at UK Power Networks, says: “Inspecting underground electricity assets can be a difficult task so we commissioned Enzen to deliver an alternative solution. The challenge was to reduce risk, improve safety, capture quality data, centralise inspection data, improve asset performance and reduce service disruptions. The solution has enabled us to make informed investment decisions, based on data-rich knowledge.”

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