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ASSET MAPPING PLATFORM FOR EMERGING COUNTRIES ELECTRIFICATION

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An eye in the sky for safe power line inspections

Researchers develop a GNSS-enabled and drone-operated solution for safe electrical power network information gathering.

Energy

Inspecting overhead power lines and other electrical infrastructure is notorious for being both dangerous and resource-intense. “Traditionally, these assets are monitored, inspected and maintained manually, meaning workers go out into the field armed with handheld cameras and an array of tools for collecting information to be processed offline,” says Marco Nisi, head of Integrated Space Solutions at Sistematica (website in Italian), an Italian information technology company. Because the infrastructure is often located in remote areas, and because it may involve working with high-voltage equipment, this manual work is both inefficient and unsafe. “This is particularly an issue in developing countries,” adds Nisi. “In order to expand access to the grid, these countries first need to know both the location of the existing infrastructure and what type of condition it is in.” For Nisi and the Sistematica team, the answer to these terrestrial problems is space. “The Galileo, and especially its free-of-charge High Accuracy Service, is a game changer in terms of gathering information about electrical power networks,” explains Nisi. Galileo is Europe’s Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), providing improved positioning and timing information to users. According to the EU Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA), the Galileo High Accuracy Service provides an additional navigation signal and added-value services in a different frequency band. With the support of the EU-funded AMPERE project, Nisi is leading an effort to help electrical utility companies leverage the power of space technology to effectively – and safely – collect the information they need to plan electrical network maintenance and upgrades. “Our goal is to engineer and commercialise a GNSS-enabled, dedicated solution for electrical power network information gathering,” notes Nisi.

Inspections from a safe distance

The AMPERE solution collects field data using a combination of technologies, including geographic information system (GIS) mapping, optical/thermal cameras, and light detection and ranging (lidar) remote sensing. This equipment is installed on a remote-piloted aircraft, or drone, which can then be semi-autonomously flown over a pre-specified area to collect optical and thermal images, as well as 3D lidar-based reconstructions. “By setting the GNSS coordinates of the location to be inspected, electrical utility workers can use the drone to get as close as possible to an electric asset and capture the information they need in high-resolution detail,” remarks Nisi. “All the while staying at a safe distance themselves.” The collected data is post-processed via a central cloud-based GIS platform. “This information is then presented in an informative, visualised manner to support the decision-making of the end user,” adds Nisi.

Automated operations in a reliable manner

The AMPERE project successfully demonstrated that remote sensing technology is mature enough not only to conduct power line inspections, but to do it safely and efficiently. “GNSS, and Galileo in particular, is an essential technology ensuring automated operations in a reliable manner and guaranteeing a high level of performance,” concludes Nisi. Having conducted tests in places like the Dominican Republic, the project is now working to bring its solution to market.

Keywords

AMPERE, GNSS, Galileo, power line inspections, drone, overhead power lines, electrical infrastructure, space, space technology, Galileo High Accuracy Service, electrical power networks, geographic information system, GIS, lidar, remote sensing

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