Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Energy industry using drones as monitoring devices

Skycatch photo
Journalists and law enforcement in rural areas are already using drones to obtain hard to reach information. Now the energy industry is following suit.

Skycatch, a year-old start-up based in San Francisco, has raised $3.2 million from Google and other investors and "already signed deals to test its technology with the construction giants Bechtel and DPR; First Solar, a developer of photovoltaic power plants; and SolarCity, a solar panel installer," Todd Woody reports for The New York Times. "Drones from Skycatch and more established companies are monitoring power lines, inspecting oil and gas pipelines, checking wind turbines for defects and pinpointing malfunctioning solar panels."

"Executives at Aeryon Labs, a Canadian company that made headlines for supplying drones to rebels in Libya, say energy is a growth area, as sensor-equipped drones offer a safe, low-cost way to inspect smokestacks, power lines and wind turbines without having to send workers to scale towers or hiring helicopters, which can cost thousands of dollars an hour to operate," Woody writes. "Aeryon has dispatched its drones to look for cracks in wind turbine blades, which can hang hundreds of feet above the ground. BP has deployed Aeryon drones and thermal cameras in Alaska to scan oil pipelines for hot spots that may indicate structural weaknesses."

At remote photovoltaic plants in the desert Southwest, where solar panels can number in the hundreds of thousands, drones can prove more effective in searching for malfunctions than people because the panels "generate a distinctive heat signature as they fail," Woody writes. Some companies have expressed interest in using drones to detect protected wildlife that may wander onto a wind farm or solar power installation, using drones to get the animals safely out or scaring away birds before they get killed by a wind turbine. (Read more)

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