Utilities using drones to monitor power grids and energy systems
By John McMalcolm
Drones are one of the most intriguing technological innovations that have emerged in recent years, and they are taking the world by storm.
In the past, these devices were mostly used for military purposes, but now, they are increasingly being used in domestic applications. One of the sectors that are showing considerable interest in drone technology is the utilities sector.
Many utility companies are beginning to realize the potential of drones as tools for providing a new level of surveillance of their utility systems, and some of them are already testing drone technologies and developing prototype systems.
Here is a look at some of the possible uses of drones in the utility industry:
Locating downed power lines
When power lines go down, they can cause a lot of inconvenience for the residents who are affected, and it can be difficult for utility companies to locate them.
In an effort to make the tasks of locating and repairing fallen power lines more efficient, some utilities are conducting experiments with drones. Equipped with simple optical cameras, these drones are relatively inexpensive to produce, and they can fly for several hours.
They can be launched quickly to locate downed power lines, count downed utility poles and help field workers determine what they need to replace in a particular area. They are especially useful for assessing storm damage in remote areas that are difficult to access due to flooded roads and fallen trees.
However, drones will not completely replace the helicopter fleets of utility companies, because they may not be able to provide proper surveillance in severe weather and heavy fog.
Some utilities are also considering using drone technology to monitor their gas, oil and water pipelines.
Drones can significantly reduce the risk of damage to pipelines by speeding up message and response times. The messages they deliver may come with graphical material to make it easier for the staff to preselect and prioritize them. Additionally, drones can be deployed to monitor the progress of pipeline constructions and reconstructions.
Another benefit of using drones to survey pipelines is that they are more environmentally-friendly and produce less noise than helicopters.
Big data and drones
According to an article titled “Big Data Meets the Little Drone,” the volume of data produced will increase significantly when drones are employed.
Small drones are able to fly at low altitude, and they are the perfect devices for capturing precise images and data. Digital images and videos are not just images or image composites; they actually result from the processing of visual light as a binary numeric representation of images, meaning that light is converted into digital data. The higher the resolution of a camera, the higher the amount of data captured.
Utilities that are planning to use drones should consider implementing a big data solution to manage and analyze the large amounts of data that will be produced during their drone surveillance activities.
Drones hold promise as effective surveillance devices for utility companies.
As drone technology continues to advance, it will not be long before utilities can take to the skies with these little flying robots.
About the Author: John McMalcolm is a freelance writer who writes on a wide range of subjects, from social media marketing to Cloud computing.
Technology revolution for water retailers
In April 2017, the UK’s water retail market in the world opened for business – the single biggest change to the water sector since privatisation. This development allowed businesses, charities and public sector organisations to shop around for the best deal.
However, like any industry, this change hasn’t been without its sticking points; here, Paul Williams, CTO at Everflow Tech (pictured far right), discusses how retailers can harness technology to their advantage
Quotations could take up to a week to produce, billing software had to be manually updated and brokers were unable to manage the complete customer journey in one place – all of which took time, cost money and allowed for human error.
The more complexity that was involved in billing or quoting, the more contact end customers needed to have with their retailers, pushing up the cost to serve for every SPID. This meant retailers – ourselves included – found themselves in a situation where profits were simply eaten up by service costs.
We also note that it can traditionally be hard for retailers to stay on top of balancing what they are charging their customers with what they are being charged by the market. To further exacerbate this, the longer a change goes unnoticed, the more trouble it can be to balance the issue.
It was these issues that Josh and his (at the time) small team wanted to ameliorate, creating their own technology in the absence of anything else.
This technology evolved into our award-winning retail sales, billing and customer management platform for the water retail market, and Everflow Tech was launched as a standalone venture in 2018, selling the software externally for other water retailers and their customers to benefit from.
What retailers want
As a relatively new entrant to the world of utilities competition, the water market could be seen to be lagging behind, particularly when it comes to innovation.
In fact, as recently as 2019, Ofwat said it expected the industry to be making technological advances and to be working with a culture of innovation, collaborating with companies both within and outside of the sector.
And with cost-savings for consumers traditionally lower than for other utilities, retailers need to be offering something more – whether that’s better support, energy-efficiency advice or more accurate data.
What’s more, consumers have had a taste of the power of technology, and they’ve come to expect nothing less from retailers across the board.
Another key issue – thrown into sharp relief during the past 12 months (and counting) of a pandemic – is rising levels of arrears, which are likely to increase bad debt beyond margins that retailers originally allowed for when the market was created.
In such a low-margin industry, there is a limit to the amount of debt retailers can take on, especially as recovering costs can be a very slow process. Ofwat has signalled that this issue could be addressed as early as this year, with a mechanism for recovering bad debt to be established during 2021/22.
The market needs simple solutions to better serve the end user, and we were perfectly placed to develop those solutions. At Everflow, our software is designed for the water retail market, by the water retail market.
As well as simple billing, clear-to-understand workflows, and a revenue assurance system to allow retailers to quickly compare market charges, Everflow has also introduced a complete debt solution, allowing missed payment dates to drive late payment charges and escalations automatically.
Retailers are able to design and put out their own bill and quotes, tailoring customer journey and overall experience – whatever the circumstances.
What does the future hold?
Automation is key to any industry; we’re heading into an age of driverless cars and smart homes, and this drive for tech will filter through to our industry, and we need to catch up.
The Internet of Things – a network of physical objects connected to each other – means human error (and effort) can effectively be removed from many everyday tasks, which goes for meter readings too. However, in the 21st century, the water market is still not leveraging previously emerged technology in the form of smart meters to provide accurate billing.
Consumers are also becoming more empowered, both to ask for information and change their preferences if they don’t like what they learn. Retailers need to be armed with this information, not next week, not tomorrow, but now – and, at Everflow Tech, we’re putting that information at their fingertips.
But the retailers themselves need to speak up too, and we will always work with them to get the best ideas on what needs to be developed and when.
Our strong bond with Everflow Water, along with other key customers, means we have a direct interest in making sure our systems serve the water market in the best way they can.
For us, the goal is to make sure retailers on our platform can grow as much as possible, leaving behind laborious daily processes to focus on their own strategic growth and, most importantly, helping their customers.