At the pace of innovation. How the technologies of unmanned transport change the energy industry

The most comprehensive business review based on the provision of commercial services for the use of unmanned vehicles was made by PwC. According to PwC experts, in the near future more and more companies will be engaged in the transformation of their operations using unmanned aerial vehicles. This will affect the energy sector, where both mobility and high quality information are needed simultaneously. According to a study by their Center for the development of solutions using UAV, at present, the global market for micro-aircraft - UAV is more than 130 billion US dollars. How are these tremendous resources distributed? More than $ 45 billion are UAV services for monitoring infrastructure, which by the way include energy. The second place, with a market volume of $ 32 billion, is agriculture, the third with a cost of 13 billion - the transport industry, 10 billion is spent by enterprises that provide security, and an additional significant part of demand forms the entertainment and telecommunications sector. As you can see, the level of penetration of UAV technology in various sectors of the economy is quite significant, but we will focus on the Infrastructure section, which includes the energy sector, where drons are used to perform functions:

• investment monitoring;

• maintenance;

• inventory of assets.

The principle of service on the basis of UAV consists of three key elements:

1. Getting accurate data with the UAV.

2. Processing and "cloud" data storage - Image analysis that provides complete information that was previously unavailable. Direct access to results from anywhere in the world and from any device.

3. Integration into operational processes, namely:

• Development of operational processes for optimal use of UAV results

• Systematization and regulation of operations with the use of UAVs

• Tracking cost savings and improving operational efficiency

What is an UAV? Their advantages and disadvantages.

UAVs are heavy and light, helicopter and airplane types, can operate on an electric motor or use liquid fuel. How to orient in this variety and choose the device most suitable for specific tasks?

There is a set of standard questions, the answers to which can determine not only the type of UAV, able to solve problems in the interests of production activities of the company, but also the way of its application. The main issue is the spatial characteristics of the monitoring object: the length, distance from the base, which determines the duration of the flight, and hence the size of the UAV and the type of its engine. Another important parameter is the need for real-time data transmission or delivery to the consumer after processing. The answer to this question determines the type of target equipment and the need for a radio channel for data transmission.

In the first place, it is advisable to separate UAVs by type of engine - on electric and gasoline. Each type has advantages and disadvantages. Two criteria are important for monitoring oil pipelines - flight time and reliability. Flight time plays an important role, as the volumes of work are usually enormous. Here, of course, UAVs with an internal combustion engine win. However, it should be understood that weather conditions often do not allow such long flights (about 8-10 hours) that can be offered to us by gasoline planes. Modern electric drones have the ability to shoot for 3-4 hours, which is quite enough in the event of difficult weather conditions.

Reliability and safety - characteristics that are important for any equipment. By these factors, the advantages are electric super-small UAVs. The less weight, the less damage the drone does to itself during landing, which, in turn, prolongs life, reduces depreciation. Safety is also of minor importance - imagine the consequences for people and things if it hits a "shell" weighing 30 kg or more.

As a rule, for the survey of objects located at a considerable distance (up to 50-70 km), used fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicles. Helicopter type devices are more suitable for near-located, but require detailed study of objects, for example, to assess the technical condition of the pipeline. Such "mini helicopters" can approach the object for a minimum distance and "hang" in one place.

If you focus on the use of UAV in energy industry, then at present, the use of drones can be implemented in two ways.

The first are business cases related to the fact that you can have helicopter or aircraft equivalents, but cheaper and faster and without a pilot. This makes a difference because you do not need to pay helicopter hours, fuel, pilot salaries, etc. And most of the effect we see comes from the fact that unmanned pilots can do more flights or inspections, and thus they can create more data, and then with a number of technologies such as artificial intelligence, with automatic data processing it can the result is far more productive than what we saw before.

The second one - more like robotics, is the introduction of drones for the inspection and diagnostics of objects in places where previously worked people. In fact, there are dangerous places. And with the aim of replacing human risk, increasing the culture of work and achieving the goals of the high-tech manufacturing process, there are implemented drones.

In this publication, we will consider the use of drones in each of these areas in many sectors of the energy industry, namely wind power, solar, oil and gas, and thermal power stations.

Wind power

When it comes to capturing drone for wind energy inspections, the market is driven by the demand for an extremely large number of wind turbines that require regular damage control. According to a Navigant Research report, at the beginning of last year, almost 300,000 separate wind turbines were operating in the world.

Manufacturers of drones are hoping that the need to use drone monitors for wind turbine inspections will increase significantly in the future. Industrial climbers can not safely get on the blade to look at them, and when it comes to checking blades, industrial climbers get into very dangerous working conditions. Depending on how the video recorder is equipped, you can get a really detailed image with a 1mm image per pixel for non-destructive testing and damage detection. This is a huge safety factor, because workers will not have to climb dangerous places, and operators can receive data quickly and efficiently.

A drone in the air above the wind turbine field can collect information and images for monitoring, mapping, planning and structural analysis. With the aid of a thermal camera attached to the dron, visual checks can be performed to detect hot spots or broken insulators. The corona discharge, a liquid that is ionized around an electrically charged conductor, can also be detected by an ultraviolet camera to indicate damaged hardware such as insulators or conductors. In addition, drone can be used to design and create 3D images so that engineers and operators can get a more detailed view of damage such as cracks or erosion without stopping the turbines from rotating.

It is worth paying attention to ways of using drones that may be appropriate in Ukraine, especially during the winter colds. Aerones has developed an innovative drone that is equipped with a spray device for a special solution that prevents icing of wind turbine blades. By this time, due to icing of the blades, WP operators lost about 20% of their revenues in Canada, the Northern United States and the EU. To address the issue, risky missions have been used involving industrial climbers or expensive heating systems, but after developing the Aerones drone system, in addition to reducing the risk to humans, the operation is performed 5 times faster and 5 times cheaper. This is the main proof of the efficiency and timeliness of such innovation.

Oil and gas

A drone can be used in the oil and gas industry for the inspection of flare pipes, fuel storage facilities, power lines and pipelines. Their main trump card - access to difficult or dangerous areas, again UAVs allow you to save a lot of money and increase the safety of work.

With the help of a drone, it is possible to collect a large amount of data, on the basis of which are models that reflect failures and problems in the operation of the drilling rig. The UAV can inspect such elements of technological units that are either dangerous or inaccessible to a person without stopping the whole process, for example - flare systems. Drones are also able to track cracks and corrosion and map their behavior, detect gas leakage, oil spills, and prevent attempts at illegal pipeline routes that threaten theft or accident. With unmanned aerial vehicles, inspection and patrolling, line inspection and monitoring of main pipelines can be conducted.

With the help of unmanned aerial vehicles, it is possible to effectively control the hydrocarbon production facilities, monitor the current state of the construction sites in the fields and prevent serious damage during the operation due to the planned work of unmanned units (scheduled flights). The monitoring of oil fields can be supplemented by the use of different methods of gathering information for expanding capabilities in terms of obtaining accurate data and preventing losses (for example, infrared cameras), and applied technology of environmental monitoring can be applied to the better control of the environmental impact. The use of technologies such as monitoring the vegetation index allows you to identify areas of high environmental impact. Continuous monitoring of contractors' activities and the provision of clear documentation throughout the investment site provide sufficient evidence in case of claims.

Thermal power and power transmission lines

Only a few are known about the difficulties faced by repair and service units when servicing boiler equipment of large thermal power plants. To understand, such boilers are tall as a 5-storey building, in which there is a process of combustion of fuels, namely coal, gas or fuel oil, in order to convert water into a steam, which activates power turbines. In the industry, even examples of accidents are known, when a repair engineer performed an inspection of the interior surfaces of the boiler unit, as a result of inconsistency, there was a burner firing, which resulted in severe industrial injuries and accidents. Fortunately, there are already innovative approaches to substituting human labor under such conditions, due to the possibility of using quadcopter machines. For the first time, such technology was offered by American company United Aerobotics. Which has performed such service projects for inspection of boilers TPP since the 1970s. Their serial models - Magnebot and Electrabot allow robotic control of heating surfaces, tubes of steam generators, burners, boiler walls thanks to the sensitive cell, the ability to "ground" on the wall and online transfer of data to the operator. It is this function, "grounding on the wall of the boiler, allows you to save energy on the battery, to significantly extend the time of the survey.

However, outside of generating power plants, too, there are quite some problems for unmanned vehicles. One of the most promising is the survey of power lines, which, if implemented with the help of ground technology, can be delayed for many days and weeks. Inspection of power lines with the help of drones eliminates the need for high-risk works and any interactions of people with operating power lines, minimizing the possible risks of human losses and damage. Unfortunately, such cases of electric shock are a frequent source of work on the maintenance of high-voltage transmission lines. With the help of outburst shooting from the drones, you can perform both online on-line inspection and more detailed diagnostics of archived files. The efficiency of the use of drones for detecting damages of garlands of power lines, defects of supports, a defeat of fallen trees, icing has been proved. As in power systems, more than 40% of overhead transmission lines are exploited for 25 years or more, the issues of carrying out works on technical re-equipment, reconstruction, and modernization of the submarines are becoming topical. To create an imprint of the current situation, in order to determine the priority of modernization, the project of a survey of drones will be effective.

Mining industry

Unmanned could be not only flying machines. One of the world's largest mining companies - the Australian-British Rio Tinto - was the world's first to deliver iron ore on an unmanned train. According to the press release of the company, a cargo of a total mass of 28 thousand tons was delivered from the mine to the port terminal.

Robot train was driven by three locomotives controlled by the operator of the Rio Tinto Center in Perth, located more than 1.5 thousand kilometers from the route. The warehouse itself traveled more than 280 kilometers in the region of Pilbara in the state of Western Australia. The company intends to seriously expand its fleet of unmanned lorries used on the same Iron Pillbury mines. Exploitation of open-cast lorries with an autopilot will increase the cash flow of the company by the year 2021 by $ 5 billion.

Rio Tinto has already signed a contract with heavy machinery companies Komatsu Ltd and Caterpillar Inc. By agreement, the Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) will be installed on these machines. What benefit do you ask? In addition to the need to pay wages to drivers, the use of autopilot gives one more effect. Thanks to the computer control system, a truck with an autopilot for every thousand hours of run saves 15% of fuel compared to a conventional dump truck managed by a person.

Security and Regulatory Issues

However, in addition to the positive, there is a reverse side of the medal that accompanies the activities of both the UAV manufacturers and service providers with their use. Namely, the danger of the drones, the availability for inspection of any gas distribution station, storage, a compressor compressor station, a main gas pipeline, an oil refinery, and even the head office of a large company of the fuel and energy complex, is faced with the problem of unauthorized intrusion of unmanned aerial vehicles. Measures to counter such threats to date are divided into three categories: preventive, drone detection (detection of drones and alert about their approach) and neutralization of drones. Each of the categories includes a number of tools and specialized companies are already developing competencies and services, the demand for which will grow with the development of the market of drones. And here the representatives of the energy sector will become their first clients because ensuring the stability and reliability of the operation of energy facilities is a priority task of their business.

However, the main method of ensuring the legality and safety of the use of drones should be domestic legislation and there is already a coordinate system that should be thoroughly studied before the implementation of projects with drones. The legal regulation on the use of drones for photography and video fixation changed from June 1, 2018, when the "Temporary Order of Ukraine's Airspace Use" came into force (hereinafter referred to as the Order), approved by the State Aviation Service of Ukraine. This Procedure explicitly specifies the conditions under which the use of drones, i.e., remotely manned aircraft is allowed. All without exception, drone flights of more than 2 kg are subject to certain restrictions/restrictions on the use of airspace. In addition, if you run a drone weighing more than 2 kg, you must obtain permission from the Air Forces of Ukraine, the bodies of the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, the bodies of the United Civil-Military Air Traffic Management System of Ukraine, Air Traffic Management Services and Air Traffic Management, and therefore like. Flights are carried out only during the day and never run on: roads of international importance, central streets of cities, railways, along with power lines (without the consent of the owner of the transmission line). According to the procedure, flights are performed within the line of sight, but no further 500 m from the external pilot, the maximum permitted flight height is not higher than 50 m above the level of the earth's (water) surface and only when the visibility of the PPSS is an external pilot. In addition to the above, the normative document regulates many other rules and circumstances that allow or prohibit the use of drones. Some of them are extremely necessary and compulsory, and some, on the contrary, make it impossible to implement effective inspections - for example, main gas pipelines and power transmission lines, since the permitted distance of 500 m from an external pilot is not enough for such projects. However, it should be noted that legislation and regulatory framework are a flexible mechanism that can be adjusted to provide expedient activities if it is confirmed by international practice. And only the activity of the UAV market and the demand for their services in the energy sector will improve the regulatory environment and integrate survey projects into the domestic jurisdiction.

Ukraine does not fall behind

Ukraine has a powerful aircraft construction background, and domestic personnel has quickly reoriented for the production of small and maneuverable drones. At the same time, the powerful driver of development was the need to apply innovative aviation technologies for the defense of our country and control of state border. The first domestic unmanned complex "Gorlitsa" manufactured by "Antonov" is known, which, among other things, can carry the missiles. The practical distance of its flight will be more than 1000 km. The following example - the military drone "Luleka-100" equipped with modern navigation and radio-electronic equipment, allows aerial exploration over long distances and is almost silent and unattainable for radar. Drones of domestic production "Spectator-M" are used for patrolling the border. This is a typical example of a successful Ukrainian start-up when the inventors from the KPI were initially encouraged by the grant for the development of a promising project and then created a manufacturing in Ukraine. The drone is equipped with modern cameras, which allow you to track a plot of up to 50 kilometers at an altitude of up to 2 thousand meters.

All these facts confirm that Ukraine is moving at the pace of world trends in the development of unmanned aerial vehicles, and has technological prospects for using drones of its own production at the inspection of energy infrastructure. If to summarize, the UAV's value is not so much in the device itself, but in the innovative programs of recognition and processing of data from the drones. It is here that the synergy of cooperation between aviation, energy engineers and programmers is concentrated. The key point is to equip the drones with Ukrainian specialized software, which will allow us to effectively process the results of the surveys. Let's hope the software developer market will respond quickly and efficiently and we will get our own high-tech energy services industry that will be completely independent of the imported components.


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