Lietuvos Energija, one of the largest energy groups in the Baltic States, aims to speed up and facilitate inspections of the electricity distribution grid. For this reason, the Group‘s company Energijos skirstymo operatorius (ESO) was one of the first in Europe to start using drones to detect defects in the power grid.
“Lietuvos energija and ESO operate more than 90 thousand kilometres of electricity distribution aerial lines nationwide. It is natural that most of power outages occur here. That is why we explore ways to speed up and facilitate inspection of the lines. Use of drones can be one of such ways that allows inspecting sections with the length of several kilometres without the need to move away from the car“, - says Vytautas Kieras, the Head of the Innovation Hub of Lietuvos Energija Group.
The electricity distribution grid is built in hard to reach locations, such as forests, marshlands, above the rivers and other water bodies. The engineers of ESO also encounter difficulties trying to reach power lines and to detect faults or defects because of soil that become loose due to heavy snow or after the rain. So, when the workers are trying to make their way to the electricity distribution lines, their time is wasted and there is a greater risk of injury.
Drones help address these challenges. First of all, the engineers of ESO will be able to reach the complicated sections of the lines with help of drones launched into the air. Thus, they can become an indispensable instrument and additional work tool. Ultra-high resolution and thermal cameras help assess the condition of the aerial lines from a greater distance, and, at the same time, evaluate the thermal resistance.
“This is a pilot project, and its results will determine whether we start using drones on a mass scale. In the long run, by 2024, we also aim at performing inspection of the power grid with help of artificial intelligence. High quality inspection of the aerial lines would help ensure that as little number of our clients as possible would experience the impact of power distribution disruptions, especially after storms and other natural phenomena, and the inspection process itself would be as simple and safe as possible for our employees”, - says Mindaugas Pranaitis, the Head of the Innovation and Services Development Division of ESO.
Currently, ESO uses 5 drones for detecting defects in the power grid. Some drones have a high resolution and thermal camera, Obstacle Collision Avoidance System. Drones are used to inspect grid emergency sites, to assess the condition of the power line supports, to determine the condition of vegetation around the lines, and other problems related to reliable power supply.
Optical and thermal cameras will be used to collect data on the condition of the power grid, and evaluation of this information will be pursued to be automated with help of artificial intelligence. ESO, together with the market participants, is already developing such a solution based on artificial intelligence.
The Innovation Hub of Lietuvos Energija Group also cooperates with start-ups developing technologies for drones. In December last year, a venture capital fund Smart Energy Fund powered by Lietuvos Energija managed by Contrarian Ventures invested in French and US start-up Sterblue that develops software for drones enabling inspection of power lines and wind turbines without human intervention.
Furthermore, the fund invested in Lithuanian start-up Aerodiagnostika that develops a drone platform that can ensure a long-term and stable flight for collecting data on the energy infrastructure.
Currently, the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA), together with ESO, is implementing pre-commercial procurement, and calls for the tenderers to develop a system that could help determine the condition of the power aerial lines without human intervention.
The pilot project of drones is a part of the Open Culture Programme of the Innovation Hub of Lietuvos Energija Group. The programme is intended to test and implement innovation ideas and initiatives of the employees of Lietuvos Energija Group of Companies.