Restoring power after natural disasters could soon be easier, with drones set to assist in inspecting and repairing damage to Queensland’s electricity network.
For crews on the ground, fault-finding is time-consuming and challenging in areas where damage is widespread and vehicle access has been cut by fallen trees, flooding or muddy terrain.
Ergon Energy’s Chief Remote Pilot, John Mordacz, said drones were a portable and cost-effective tool for inspecting the network and carrying out repairs.
“We can get very detailed aerial images of the network, which highlight faults that cannot be detected on the ground.
“We’re also using drones to string powerlines over rugged terrain.
“While drones don’t have the lift capacity of a helicopter or the flying range of a fixed-wing aircraft, they are a more accessible and cost-effective alternative in many situations,” Mr Mordacz said.
Ergon Area Manager, Wayne Alderman, said that while they are no substitute for staff on the ground, drones are a great addition to their tools of the trade, helping to make jobs safer and helping to restore power faster.
“Our recent trials of drones in all aspects of network maintenance and inspection show some very promising advantages for our staff and the community.
“Drones allow us to rapidly investigate parts of the network that are typically difficult to access in vehicles or on foot, and the high-resolution images give us a better grasp of what damage has occurred and what equipment will be required to make repairs, saving a lot of time,” Mr Alderman said.
The benefits of using drones don’t only apply to disaster response.
“In the past when we needed to string a new powerline from one side of a river to another, or over inaccessible terrain, we often had to call in a helicopter to carry out the task.
“We can now use our own drones to do the same job with fewer risks, at significantly less cost and more efficiency.
“Drones also allow us to closely inspect communication towers more than 100m high from all angles, for any damage or potential faults,” Mr Alderman said.
Ergon Energy and Energex are training up to 80 staff to become certified drone pilots to ensure the aircraft can be used around the state.
“Given our pilots will be using drones close to the electricity network, teaching them to do that safely is our top priority,” Mr Mordacz said.