Powered by eight electric motors and rotor blades, the drone is able to maintain a static position, hovering like a dragonfly, even when high up in the sky. Equipped with a high-resolution video camera, the drone can film the state of the insulation on an electricity pylon and along the length of a power line in order to check whether it is fully intact. This multicopter, or “multirotor” drone, is just one of many in the fleet used by Endesa to inspect power lines and plants in Catalonia, Andalusia, Aragon and the Balearic and Canary Islands. The company has been using these devices successfully since 2013, and the number of drones has been increasing progressively. Today the Group uses them for different purposes, and not just in Spain.
Serving the power plants
In Italy, for example, Enel has developed a drone capable of conducting inspections inside the large boilers used at thermoelectric power plants. These flying devices, which are controlled remotely by specially trained pilots, have also proved to be extremely useful in inspecting large photovoltaic plants, flying over the arrays of panels to check for any signs of damage.
The Enel Group has also begun to extend the use of multicopters in the United States and Latin America. In Brazil, for example, the wind farm in Lagoa dos Ventos, where construction work began in June of this year, was created also thanks to the use of drones that were used to conduct the surveys and topographic studies necessary for planning the project. In recent years this technology has evolved at a dramatic pace, thanks to advances in research and technological development.
Drones are also making giant strides forward when it comes to increasing their transport capacity. While a few years ago light quadcopters could transport only a few grams, now there are models capable of carrying much more. On this front, Enel is collaborating in Italy with FlyingBasket, a company that has trialed drones that weigh up to 70kg and are capable of transporting payloads of up to 100kg in flight. For the moment, the testing has been limited to the use of this technology in rescue simulations in mountainous environments for the Civil Protection organization, with the idea of extending its application to operational tasks. The aforementioned test took place in Alto Adige as part of a study launched by the Global Infrastructure and Networks division. Massimo Maffeis, Network Design, Engineering & Construction at Global Infrastructure and Networks, explains: “For Enel the use of drones in various types of on-site operations concerning energy distribution grids is an important step towards having grids that are more efficient and more sustainable. Projects with innovative partners like FlyingBasket are showing encouraging results for our grid management operations.”
As far as battery duration is concerned, technological developments are making drones ever faster and quicker at performing their tasks. Enel Brasil, for example, is testing technology that enables drones to analyze images collected in flight on board and in real time. The system was developed by a Brazilian startup, Horus, which was supported by the Group as part of its Energy Start program.
Finally, further developments in drone technology in the near future will see drones equipped with mechanical arms and gripping systems for carrying out tasks in flight. Working towards this particular goal is a European project, Aerial-Core, whose partners include e-Distribución, the Endesa company responsible for distributing electricity on the Iberian peninsula. The goal is to create a drone equipped with an ultra-light robotic arm operated remotely to perform complex tasks on power lines, like attaching bird deterrents, spacers and cleaning isolators.
Years of development still lie ahead but the promising results both from an economic perspective and in terms of benefiting the environment confirm how the use of drones in the world of electricity distribution is in line with Infrastructure and Network’s vision of grids that are increasingly resilient, digitalized and sustainable.