The National Grid has developed a new drone-mounted system in partnership with the University of Manchester, which will use electric field (e-field) sensor technology to carry out live inspections of overhead transmission line insulators.
Insulators – typically made of glass or ceramics – protect pylons from power line currents, preventing the tower from becoming live. The units produce electric fields which have distinct profiles when in operation and are altered when the insulator develops defects.
Funded by Ofgem’s Network Innovation Allowance (NIA), the £1 million, three year innovation project aims to deliver an e-field sensor system that can be flown by a drone near to the pylon, so as to analyse the insulators e-field profiles.
This method would negate the need for circuit outages, line workers climbing pylons and sending insulator samples for forensic analysis.
In total, the technology is estimated to save the National Grid £2.8 million in costs over a 15 year period.
“We’re increasingly using drones as part of our activities monitoring the condition of our transmission network, and innovations like this e-field sensing system mean there are even more exciting ways that drones could support us in keeping the grid reliable and safe in the future,” said Nicola Todd, head of strategy and innovation at National Grid Electricity Transmission.
“We look forward to working with Manchester’s experts and test facilities to develop new monitoring tech that will help us keep the network in good health while saving consumers money.”
The project will also create digital twins for a range of insulators to provide further insight into e-field profiles, designing algorithms to test insulator conditions before adapting the tech into a drone-mountable system.
Research for the project will be led by Dr Vidyadhar Peesapati, Sinisa Durovic and Professor Ian Cotton of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, alongside Khristopher Kabbabe of the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering.
Dr Peesapati added: “With demand increasing, we need to maximise the resilience of overhead lines, the spine of UK electricity. The ambition of this project helps us address this challenge while moving the UK one step further towards a low carbon future that that ensures reliability and value for the consumer.”
National Grid is also trialing autonomous drones for visual monitoring of pylons and overhead lines as part of a separate NIA-funded project.
Current± recently caught up with chief operations officer at Shaper Shape, Paul Frey, to explore the benefits of a digitalised grid and how digital twin technologies can accelerate its adoption. You can read the blog here.