Power grid operators must regularly inspect and maintain their infrastructure to avoid equipment failures that could cause power outages. In fact, grid operators in Norway are required by law to inspect at least 80% of all line spans, pylons, and components every year. This is a demanding task – particularly in the Western part of Norway where power grids must traverse hundreds of kilometres of inaccessible terrain.
Today's inspections are typically performed visually – either by manned helicopter or by foot – which is time consuming, expensive, dangerous, and the quality of collected data depends on the individual operator/inspector. Remotely operated or autonomous drone technology promises to address the issues with manned inspection operations by offering a safer and more cost-effective solution with higher data quality.
KVS Technologies, in partnership with SINTEF and Lyse Elnett, will develop an autonomous fixed-wing drone platform capable of operational ranges of 100+ km and that can safely fly in close proximity to infrastructures beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) of the operator. Additionally, automatic data capture will give more consistent, higher quality data, enabling automated analysis workflows.
Fixed-wing drone platforms are necessary to achieve the operational range required for cost-effective coverage of the power grid. However, their high minimum flight speed introduces challenges for the safe BVLOS operation of these platforms at low altitudes. Onboard autonomy that allows the drone to precisely control its flight path and payload sensors relative to the target infrastructures and surrounding terrain is thus a key enabling factor for long-range automated inspection operations.
These innovations will enable KVS to develop an autonomous drone-based solution that offers grid operators such as Lyse Elnett a safer and more cost-effective alternative to current inspection operations.