The Applications of Drones in Utility & Energy Sector

Drones in Utility & Energy Sector
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RC Planes and helicopters have been there for decades, so why is there this sudden massive interest in drone technology today? RC planes and helicopters were the toys kids used to play within the 70s or 80s.

This was the typical user experience anyone would have fun with. One can use them for a few minutes or maybe a few hours, but they were flimsy. They’re made of paper and cardboard and were not robust. The reason is that they’re just toys, not tools. So, what really changed?

Drone is a combination of government and private sector innovation. There are flight controllers for NASA, GPS technology; regionally pioneered by the US Navy, miniaturized sensors like accelerometers and gyroscopes, digital cameras that are miniaturized, high quality and energy-efficient. All these are combined with advances in model aircraft and battery life that give the modern drone its powerful capabilities. Having the right drone depends on your specific needs.

What’s the True Value of Drone?

Electric Utility Drones

Drone is all about what the user is trying to achieve and what applications they’re going to be using it for. There are all kinds of different industries. There are drones for real estate to get roof inspections and take photos of houses from different angles. For sports, movies and TV commercials.

Industries are now able just to capture those amazing views and perspectives. Companies like Amazon are starting to experiment with using drones for delivery. There are also drones for energy and other utility sectors. Here is the real value of drones in the utility and energy sector

  • Making more money
  • Increasing profitability
  • Higher quality
  • Higher speed
  • Higher satisfaction with your team

Why Do Most Projects Run Late or Over-Budget?

This goes across all the industries, but certainly to energy and construction. Everyday project managers are asked to do the impossible. They go to war with a mountain of paperwork, and they have to communicate to their contractor, leadership, customers while having perfect visibility to every change on every massive job site, all simultaneously. This can be impossible to some extent since no one can be in three places at once.

Contractors, equipment, and building projects are all rapidly changing. But, they’re trying to manage it the same way today that they were 20 years ago where; Construction is done on rolled-up paper blueprints. The managers walk the site with clipboards taking notes and pictures. Stakeholders still have to visit the job site to check progress physically.

Drone vs. Traditional Mode of Collecting Data

Old data is incorrect data. It takes a month or two to get the data, the project has progressed and the data no longer accurately reflects where the job is. This leads to cost overruns, unexpected delays.

Aerial overhead data was only rarely captured due to the traditionally large costs and delays. That’s why most projects run late and were over budget. It was impossible, no matter how good the contractors were.

It is difficult to make fast, informed decisions without consistent site visibility. That leads to inefficiency because of expensive contractors and rental equipment, often goes unused.

This leads to project delays, especially when contractors wait for customers get out to the site to approve portions of work and release funds for the next section. If it’s not delayed on customers, it delays on managers and team members that need to approve leads to low profits. This is because when projects go over budget, it comes directly out of the company’s profits and in some cases that can lead to lost customers.

If they were expecting a project to be done or if they’re assuming oil to be flowing and it isn’t, they may be disappointed and may not use workers again, or they may stop mid-project. This is where drones come to place.

Using Drones at a Large Facility

Possibilities for drones to create real value in a large facility are endless. Routine inspections with drones not only significantly saves resources, but also prevents endangerment of employees using them.

Drones are also uniquely qualified to measure stockpiles and has tremendous value in calculating inventory and preventing waste. They’re a valuable addition to the facility security efforts enabling limitless aerial perspective.

Industrial facilities have many dangerous elements that need a continuous monitoring. A drone can easily do jobs like checking a gas tank for a league without risk to personnel.

There are two ways you can use drones at a large facility.

  1. Drone as a service: This method uses a third-party drone operator which is costly and not always in demand when one needs it.
  2. Owning and operating your drone: This requires expertise, and it burdens the facility with the training staff and does not create accurate results.

Most drones were designed with autonomous technology. That means that drones are launched and landed automatically without the need for a pilot. Anyone can operate the system from anywhere, and grown missions get deployed with the click of a button.

Most drone solution companies have refined the way drones are used and have turned them into a professional industrial tool, sensor, and battery swapping capabilities that set the drone into a multi-tool that brings unprecedented value across various applications. This includes security inspection, mapping, and surveying, emergency response.

The most cutting-edge software integrates various distinct data types which get translated into clear, concise real-time insights. The drone industry assures a future where industrial enterprise makes informed decisions based on the insightful aerial data.

Importance of Drones in Utility & Energy Sector

Electric utilities using drones

They give you that clear job site visibility; the data is accurate and automatic since the user pushes a button and the drone captures the data. Energy and other utilities can obtain the data in near real-time.

Usually to survey a large job site would take potentially a month or two, but with drone mapping, one can map 100-acre job site about ten minutes. It’s completely secure. You can alternatively do a man survey team, but usually, there’s going to be a significant cost associated with that and significant delays to get an aerial survey on the job site.

Hiring a fully-managed drone company won’t take long, but it may take a few weeks to book and then a few weeks to process the data. It’s often two to three months before one can get their data from the time they want.

How Utility & Energy Companies Build Their Drone Solutions?

Instead of getting the data back a month late and when at that point the job sites already changed and the data is no longer accurate. A company can also build its solution. But there are some different steps that they’ll need to follow to do that.

  • Get FAA regulation
  • Either train or employ drone pilots
  • They need to have the hardware and software
  • They need the processing data storage and data management

Industries also need to take in to account the risk and the insurance of the process. If a drone does crash or it needs replacement, even if no one was injured or something like that, it can easily be $50,000 per crash just to replace the drone itself.

Common Drone Mapping Process

The interested industry or company is going to select a KML with a map perimeter- That just means choosing the area that they want to map. They’re going to;

Step 1: Lay ground control points to make sure it’s accurate.

Step 2: Create and upload the flight plan.

Step 3: Fly the drone.

Step 4: Geotag the data.

Step 5: Transfer the data to the processing equipment.

Step 6: Process the data.

Step 7: Store and manage the data.

At that point, they can finally analyze it and collaborate with their team. Most fully-managed drone solution companies have tried to cut out every step possible on the industrialist’s side. They’ll just automate it to make it a streamlined, fast and easy as possible.

Contractors can simply upload their flight plan, push a button and the drone automatically takes itself off. The drone flies the area in a lawnmower pattern, comes back, and lands itself. The cloud will then scan the data to the cloud, and it gets processed automatically. They can then access and analyze their job site and securely share it with the stakeholders. There’s no manual piloting. It’s highly scalable, highly reliable and saves time.

Drones in The Energy Sectors

From monitoring construction progress on new water impoundment bonds to pipeline weld verification, companies are discovering many ways that drones can be deployed for both upstream and midstream applications.

Drones help to increase revenues and profits on any fast-moving job site. It’s important for energy companies to have GIS data that supports the accuracy of the information coming from different construction drawings.

Drone Regulation in Energy Sector

Gas pipelines are both FERC and DOT regulated as pipelines are considered transportation, FENSA closely scrutinizes them because of the potential for causing public health and safety problems.

Material test reports are required for anything gas-related that goes into the ground -anywhere in the pipeline route that needs to be able to pull records of installation. You need to state where it came from, x-rays and pipe metallurgy.

Every weld needs to be radiographed and x-rayed. With a drone, the energy company can quickly fly over a pipeline before it’s covered up to make sure every weld is identified in the GIS and numbered. This documentation is a federal requirement. Welds are 20 feet apart and typically 12 to 42 inches in diameter. The precise location of each weld needs to be identified geographically so that inspectors can locate it in the event of a leakage or explosion.

Inspection Process

It is a documentation nightmare as most industries know, but energy companies must be able to show that they’ve done everything they can to ensure the integrity of the pipeline.

Drones will fly over pipelines and can automatically capture the data and track all of that seamlessly. Once the information is there and documented, anybody from any location can access the data, thus saving time and avoiding costly mistakes.

Some of the most common applications that drone mapping is being used for within the energy industry is compressor station, 3d volumetric mapping, pipeline rights-of-way, processing plant construction, utility line rights-of-way, visual and topographical inspection. Those are just a few of the most common applications for drone mapping.

The Future of Drone Mapping in Utility & Energy

Recent advancements and processing technology have allowed the utility and energy and energy sectors to expand their mapping techniques by using mapping drones dramatically. Drone solution can work on gas detection systems to enable users to check for any gas leaks in the pipeline. The use of a sensor for UAV mapping to gather analytical data is revolutionizing the way that energy sector companies are adding value to their business. They include;

  • Cost-effectively patrol and monitor right away passages.
  • Detect right-of-way issues early before they become big problems.
  • Regulatory compliance with all the FARC and all the other industry regulations. Emergency response.
  • Identify risks (if any)

Do proper oversight to minimize damage if there is a problem. It can be difficult capturing accurate volumetric survey data or as-built Versailles plan data on energy construction projects, but drone mapping helps you do it. These are just a few of the top applications for drone mapping.

FAA’s Rules and Regulations

(Source: devingraham)

Do you know the regulations associated with the operation of drone? It highly recommended knowing who’s allowed to use it, where it’s permitted to fly it, and what penalties might be associated with violating regulations or laws associated with this device.

There was a National Transportation Safety Board decision an NTSB decision that decided that the FAA does have the authority to make decisions about what counts as a drone for regulatory purposes or what counts as an unmanned aircraft for regulatory purposes.

FAA Drone Regulations

They said it’s any device that’s capable of flight and they accepted that the definition was just as broad and sweeping as it sounded. What’s fascinating about this claim of regulatory authority that the FAA has is that it’s seemingly limitless. FAA is claiming that they have the right to regulate aircraft control. The operation of those aircraft from the heavens all the way down to a millimeter above a blade of grass.

For a long time, UAVs were not regulated. At least the small ones that everyone’s fascinated with right now and that’s because the FAA exercised its discretion not to enforce rules against what we’re known as model aircraft operators. The reason for that was that most model aircraft operators were flying at fields as part of a community-based organization. All of that changed in the last few years with the explosion of new technology that’s easy to fly right out of the box.

Registration Mandate

With the new registration mandate, there’s now a statutory hook for enforcement. Previously without the registration mandate unmanned aircraft, operators could fly without the fear of some government agent coming after them so long as they were following the rules.

Now with the registration requirement, there is statutory authority for federal state local and tribal officials to stop anyone who’s operating an unmanned and ask them to provide proof of their registration tied to that.

The enforcement part is the penalty part which is fines of up to $25,000 for operating an aircraft without having it registered and fines of up to $25,000 for fraudulently registering an aircraft.

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