Energy networks set sights on drone technology integration

UK gas and electricity network operators are exploring the use of innovative drone technologies to improve inspection methods across their networks thanks to the Energy Innovation Centre (EIC).

Following the identification of the potential benefits of using drones, the EIC’s energy industry partners are now working with the Department of Transport, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Transport Catapult to advance the use of these technologies as a viable alternative to traditional inspection methods.

The aim of the collaboration is to determine what drone system characteristics and operations processes are required to enable ‘beyond visual line of sight’ (BVLOS) operations to become routine in a range of energy network environments.

Seeking fresh approaches to the challenge, the EIC launched a call for innovation in November. It called for proposals from third parties within its global innovation community capable of delivering a program of work that would expand the range of current drone operations, and demonstrate safe flight under BVLOS conditions with CAA approval.

A record number of 21 responses were received, resulting in seven businesses being invited to pitch their ideas to the partners.

Tony Knowles, technical manager at the EIC, said: “The quality of the responses to this call for innovation was outstanding. It has created an unprecedented opportunity for companies at the forefront of this exciting new technology to engage with energy network operators who are keen to work collaboratively to adopt drones within their networks.

“Drone technology offers huge potential for the networks to increase the efficiency, safety and minimise disruption to the public with some of their operations. This is a great example of using the call process to allow them to tap in to a wealth of third party knowledge that’s out there, while also creating opportunities for SMEs to work with the networks.”

The EIC’s calls for innovation programme was launched in 2014 and during the 2016/2017 financial year 20 calls have been issued. The purpose of the calls is to help the energy networks to publicly seek third-party solutions to their challenges and to open up access to the energy innovation sector for SMEs with fresh ideas and new technologies.

To keep up to date with the latest calls for innovation from our network partners, visit: www.energyinnovationcentre.com/innovation