When it comes to inspections, traditionally planes, helicopters and professional climbers would be used to ensure gas facilities, wind turbines or remote oil fields are operating efficiently. The process could be hazardous as it involves workers climbing rigs, abseiling down cooling towers or navigating the dangers of the large wind turbine blades. Not to mention, such inspections require a lot of time, often necessitating the need to stop operations.
However, by using drones, engineers can inspect objects in a few hours without interrupting the workflow. The technology like cameras, sensors and scanners that drones are equipped with can ensure more accurate data, better management and safer work conditions. It saves time and money for the industry as drones are 85% faster and cheaper than human inspections, Fircroft reports.
In the case of vast solar farms and huge oil & gas fields or long stretches of pipelines, regular maintenance can be tricky. Research shows that companies spend around $37bn a year for monitoring of what accounts for 10,000,000km of oil and gas pipelines worldwide. Using drones for these tasks can save a significant amount of costs and time.
For example, General Electric’s Raven drone uses its laser-based sensors to detect leaks in oil and gas wells three times faster than manual inspection. The process of flying over a gas field and sending results to engineers on the ground takes just 40 minutes on a single charge.
Such technology can help detect various security and efficiency issues in real time, including up-to-date information on leakages in pipelines, hot and cold spots in solar panels, vegetation encroachment, vandalism and more. Moreover, drones can fast-track mapping and design procedures, taking 90% less time than normal, according to the solar energy company SunPower.
Just like a lot of innovative advances, drones can have a negative impact on the energy industry as well. With drones becoming more and more accessible to the general public, there’s a greater chance for them to end up in the hands of criminals and terrorists. A well-timed attack could harm oil refineries, power plants and nuclear facilities, stopping operations or even causing bigger disasters affecting whole regions.
Along with a threat of a physical attack, concerns are being raised by industry experts of possible cyber attacks. Since inspection or survey data from drones is transmitted to a cloud via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, hackers could exploit this vulnerability and steal sensitive information or corrupt the systems. It is necessary for companies to have good cybersecurity measures in place before embarking on this cost-saving and fast method for inspections and surveying.
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