S. Australia using drone technology for power grid maintenance works

Philip van der Burg, Chief Executive Officer at Carbonix

Aussie drone maker, Carbonix has partnered with SA Power Networks and communications tech Nokia provider to advance the use of long-range Un-Crewed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in aerial inspection work and flood monitoring on remote electricity distribution network assets.

How was drone technology employed in the region?

In the initial phase of the partnership a Carbonix Volanti UAV was used to prove the Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) capability using Nokia private wireless solution, Nokia Digital Automation Cloud (DAC) for industrial-grade reliable and long-range wireless network connectivity. This paved the way for a continuation of the partnership in which Carbonix UAVs showed LiDAR capabilities for maintenance and flood water monitoring at asset locations.

South Australia’s electricity distribution network covers nearly 180,000 square kms, with 30% of clients living in remote areas of the state. Carbonix UAVs with BVLOS capability will be critical in helping speed up the utility providers’ response times to outages affecting these customers as well as asset inspection cycles, fault finding, bushfire preparedness, maintenance work and line re-stringing while improving safety and efficiency for employees.

SA Power Networks used specialised multi-rotor drones for some areas of maintenance but continues to rely on helicopters for overhead line inspections. Drones provide a clear alternative when helicopters would not be suitable. The operational and environmental benefits of replacing helicopters with Carbonix drones could see up to 80% reduction in operating cost and up to 98% reduction in CO2 output compared with manned aircraft.

The successful integration of 4.9G/5G modems into Carbonix drones’ communications systems has resulted in greater redundancy, higher bandwidth, increased coverage and lower costs to obtain real-time data from drones engaged in long-range BVLOS operations.

What does the breakthrough mean for stakeholders?

“Carbonix long-range UAVs will enable asset owners and operators to carry out inspections on remote linear infrastructure by providing an extended flight range of over 500 kilometers on par with helicopters at significantly reduced cost and impact on communities and the environment,” commented Carbonix Chief Executive Officer, Philip van der Burg.

“The partnership is a great testament of driving innovation in a traditionally conservative industry and we are honoured to be working with these two great companies,” Philip said.

Paul Roberts, Head of Corporate Affairs for SA Power Networks said the business had been developing drone capability with 30 trained pilots across 30 depots already able to operate limited visual ‘line of site’ missions. “Drones have proven themselves in a range of our operations. We believe the full value of drones to enhance the safety of our people and improve our efficiency will come with BVLOS capability,” Mr Roberts commented.

“This trial will help us demonstrate the value of BVLOS to aviation authorities in Australia, who currently do not approve beyond the horizon drone use,” Mr Roberts further said.

Rob McCabe, Head of Enterprise for Australia and New Zealand at Nokia said, We are proud to bring our industrial-grade private wireless leadership to South Australia enabling exciting new use cases that we’re developing here at our 5G Industrial Incubation Lab.”

“Together with our tech partners, SA Power Networks and Carbonix, we’re exploring the advanced use of long-range connected drones for inspection and maintenance of electricity distribution networks, which will bring safer, more efficient and more sustainable operations.”

“Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) certification is a prerequisite for long-range UAV missions, allowing for more effective critical data collection, which enables better and preventative measures to enhance the safety for all stakeholders”, says Mr. van der Burg.