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The latest drone technology is being used to monitor the quality of network assets, in a recent trial conducted by Powercor in the Ballarat region.

The Matric 300 RTK – a powerful industrial drone platform – achieves highdetail inspection via an advanced flight controller system, six-directional sensing, real-time video transmission,  thermal imaging, and obstacle-detection systems.

Powercor’s drones have currently been assessing over 30km of powerlines across Ross Creek, Cambrian Hill, Napoleons and Buninyong.

According to a spokesperson from Powercor, the trial in Ballarat follows an earlier trial in the Otways in September 2020, with results from the Ballarat project likely to inform whether the technology is suitable for inclusion in Powercor’s continuous inspection program.

“While it’s still very early days in our drone trials initiative, inspections at Ballarat had covered a large area quickly, while the Otways trial helped easily access some of the most remote parts of our network,” said the Powercor spokesperson.

The use of drones is conducted alongside Powercor’s ongoing program of asset inspections, rolled out through crews across vehicles, on foot and by helicopter. In fact, drone trials in Ballarat will support the comprehensive foot patrol of the area in early 2021, after last summer saw reliability issues among customers south of Ballarat.

Program Manager Zesh Ahmer at the site of the trial south of Ballarat

Powercor Head of Network Asset Management, John Mifsud, said that the area south of Ballarat was chosen due to topographical and environmental factors, in addition to characteristics of the region’s network that suited a fair and comprehensive drone technology trial.

Mr Mifsud said, “This trial is about finding new ways to keep our network operating safely and reliably. “While these drones won’t replace our existing inspection methods, we’re looking at whether they have a permanent role in our program in the future.”

Powercor currently manages its network of almost 90,000km of powerlines and 588,000 poles through a rigorous inspection and maintenance program, on top of a network-wide vegetation management program – clearing trees and shrubs well away from powerlines.

Further announcements from Powercor about the future role of drone technology  in their monitoring program could highlight broader attitudes about the uptake of drones across the energy sector.

While drone technology could enable higher quality assessment of network assets, and potentially even reduce the carbon impact of said monitoring work, the technology likely needs to be integrated with existing monitoring teams to ensure reliability and accuracy.

DRONE FACTS:

» Model: Matrice 300 RTK

» Dimensions: 810×670×430 mm(L×W×H)

» Weight: Approx. 3.6kg (without batteries) and 6.3kg (with two TB60 batteries)

» Max Speed: 83km/h

» Average operation speed: 3km/h

» Max Ascent Speed: 6m/s

» Max Descent Speed (vertical): 5m/s

» Max height of operation: 5,000m

» Operational height above powerlines: 4m

» Max Flight Time: 55 min

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