SSEN Transmission keep the power flowing with the early adoption of drones, IoT and visualization software

Power Grid

As one of the pioneers in its industry, SSEN Transmission – part of the SSE Group – has been utilizing drones and digital solutions since 2012.

At the end of last year, SSEN Transmission published its digital strategy, which outlined its commitment to safety, innovation, and environmentally friendly practices. Effective data collection and management are integral to the success of this strategy – and this is exactly where Cyberhawk comes into play.

Cyberhawk has revolutionized the way that utility companies, like SSEN Transmission, captures, stores, and manages integrity data. Cyberhawk delivers drone-based inspections across SSEN Transmission’s network in the North of Scotland, monitoring over 11,500 transmission towers and almost 150 substations, providing actionable insights via its cloud-based, IoT-enabled visualization platform, iHawk. The adoption of iHawk has offered SSEN Transmission’s operational, project and asset teams unprecedented levels of access to multi-level data, allowing them to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the network, exposing integrity risks, and revealing opportunities for improvement. “iHawk’s innovative approach to data management is key to managing our network assets, central to how our operations team manage inspections, maintenance, safety, and compliance.”

A single data-driven view of investment potential

By using iHawk to capture and manage the data, strategic planning across the North of Scotland’s transmission and distribution networks can be coordinated, even informing other utilities of planned developments.

This has offered SSEN Transmission real value in that the visual data has supported multi-million-pound investment decisions.

“iHawk’s innovative approach to data management is key to managing our network assets, central to how our operations team manage inspections, maintenance, safety, and compliance.”

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Maintaining a safe, reliable, and secure power grid.

Faults and disturbances can have a significant effect across the network. The loss of any key power corridor can mean the loss of crucial green energy from Scotlands renewable generation base or result in the loss of customer supplies.

This is why SSEN Transmission’s activities are all verged to ensure a robust inspection and maintenance program. This includes engineers climbing the transmission towers to carry out routine inspections. However, this requires circuit outages and has the obvious inherent risks associated with working at height.

If left, towers and their fitting condition can deteriorate over time, leading to potentially catastrophic incidents. SSEN Transmission's commitment to providing a safe and secure supply of electricity means the risk is too high to leave inspections for lengthy periods. To overcome this, Cyberhawk supports SSEN Transmission by conducting regular drone-based inspections, which are agile, time-effective, and safer than the in-person alternative.

By conducting drone inspections on a regular basis and ensuring the data is efficiently processed and accessed on iHawk, the SSEN Transmission’s operational teams can identify issues early, focusing interventions on the highest priority items before they are allowed to fail.

Earlier this year, through Cyberhawk’s visual inspection data, SSEN Transmission was able to identify a missing split pin on a tower insulator fitting. An outage was planned, and a repair was carried out the following weekend. If it wasn’t for the drone data being available on iHawk, it could have resulted in a failure, causing a network fault on a key transmission circuit.

By ensuring their transmission lines are kept in top condition, SSEN Transmission can retain the current high level of network reliability at the lowest cost possible, ensuring it delivers the best value for consumers -

Data collection supports compliance.

Cyberhawk recently supported SSEN Transmission to pass an audit by the Electricity Safety, Quality, and Continuity Regulations (ESQCR), which is enforced by the Health Safety Executive (HSE).

The ESQC Regulations (2002) dictate that electricity distribution and transmission companies must inspect and maintain accurate records of their assets. Without these records, SSEN Transmission would not be able to comply.

iHawk put the data at SSEN Transmission’s fingertips, allowing teams to rapidly access historic information in one centralized place, categorized and easy to navigate. They are able to pinpoint key information, such as the general condition data, a number of defects reported during any given time period and in any given area or circuit, even able to detail the work orders that had been raised.

As a result, SSEN Transmission demonstrated its commitment to safety and compliance with the regulation.

Helping to reduce SSEN Transmisson’s environmental impact

The utility recognizes that the digitalization of its systems and processes, underpinned by rich, local, and accessible data, reinforces this commitment to reducing its environmental impact, in line with COP26. SF6 (Sulphur hexafluoride) has been used extensively as an insulation medium in high voltage equipment for over 60 years. However, in 2005 the Kyoto protocol identified the gas mixture as a greenhouse gas. With little in the way of proven alternatives, SSEN Transmission works tirelessly to improve leakage performance of its SF6 assets.

SSEN Transmission benefited from the decades of oil and gas experience within the Cyberhawk team. We recently introduced a new, ground-breaking pressure monitoring system that will allow SSEN Transmission to remotely monitor an asset's SF6 density.

Cyberhawk has integrated an IoT sensor that monitors for any leaks of the colorless, odorless, synthetic gas. As soon as the system identifies a reading, regardless of the volume and how minor the leak, the operations team is alerted so that they can take remedial action immediately, limiting the effect on the environment. This will enable proactive management of SF6 leaks and improve network performance, allowing outages for gas top-ups to be coordinated in a wider program.

Covid-19: business as usual

When the impact of Covid-19 on the UK population became clear at the start of 2020, many businesses faced disruption of their day-to-day operations.

Keeping power supplied in the form of gas and electricity has been essential throughout the pandemic, and more pressure than ever was placed on utility companies and their employees to continue to deliver this essential service.

SSEN Transmission has an unwavering commitment to keeping its people safe; in fact, its motto is: ‘‘if it’s not safe, we don’t do it”. Therefore, the utility faced the challenge of ensuring critical inspection and maintenance activity was carried out whilst complying with the social distancing requirements in place.

The iHawk tablets and associated work order systems had shown their worth long before then, but with no reliance on paper-based systems of old, the need for face-to-face contact between the maintenance teams and engineering staff was kept to a minimum.

iHawk defect reporting functionality enables efficient reporting of defects identified during substation and overhead line inspections, allowing team members to tag defect notices to any given asset or location, with the ability to add pictorial evidence and user commentary before autonomously passing to maintenance managers for approval and scheduling.

Stuart Knight, Head of Operations and Maintenance at SSEN Transmission, said:

“SSEN has been working with Cyberhawk for a number of years now. I have been extremely impressed with the quality of inspection data and functionality of their tool, iHawk’s innovative approach to data management is key to managing our network assets, central to how our operations team manage inspections, maintenance, safety, and compliance.

“When I was first introduced to the SSEN Transmission data held on iHawk, I could not believe the quality of data we were able to obtain at the touch of a button, from any location. It is unrivaled compared to other data management tools I have seen being used in the energy sector.

“iHawk is embedded into the operations teams now, and when a new recruit joins, they receive a tutorial of how to use the tool as part of their training program, and it very quickly becomes their natural guide to operational life at SSEN Transmission.

“The Cyberhawk team is a pleasure to work with. Their professional approach, coupled with their proactive suggestions, makes them an ideal inspection and technology partner. We really benefit from Cyberhawk’s experience in the oil and gas sector and how they can apply those lessons learned to the work we’re doing. We at SSEN Transmission are looking forward to building on this long-standing relationship.”


In early 2016, Cyberhawk completed an inspection on twelve 100m tall cooling towers at the Drax coal-fired power station near Selby, UK.


Power Grid

As part of our framework with Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN), Cyberhawk provides inspection and digital asset management solutions for the SSEN transmission overhead line and substation network in Scotland. In addition to our highly skilled pilots and detailed engineering knowledge, Cyberhawk was selected by SSEN because of our pioneering asset management software, iHawk. This began life in 2012 as a cloud-based visual asset management solution, focused on tranmission lines. Over the last six years, iHawk has been significantly developed to encompass additional functionality such as the generation and execution of maintenance work orders, assisting in the management of electricity, safety, quality and continuity regulations (ESQCR) and the asset management of substations. The software has also been further developed and can now be used with tablets in the field, as well as from a desk.

Provision of ruggedized tablet computers, with software for SSEN lines persons to complete the following: Ground or climbing condition inspections; ESQCR inspections; Repair and maintenance work orders;

The scope SSEN high-voltage transmission network (132kV – 400kV) includes more than 11,000 towers and 120 substation sites. Within SSEN, Cyberhawk’s services include: Detailed UAV tower inspections each year


Provision of ruggedized tablet computers, with software for SSEN fitters to complete the following at substations:

Asset specific condition inspections
ESQCR inspections
Site security inspection
Oil risk inspections
Repair and maintenance work orders
Provision of a cloud based visual asset management system, iHawk, which:

Hosts all new inspection information from UAVs, lines persons and fitters
Hosts legacy inspection information from historic sources such as spreadsheets and helicopter patrols
Allows inspection information to be queried, and the generation of repair and maintenance works orders
Hosts ESQCR data allowing identification of high risk sites
Provides ability to find the tower location using distance to fault information
Provides analytic network data

UAV tower inspection

Our inspection solution involves a two-man team, consisting of a pilot and an industry-qualified engineer, mobilizing on-site to capture the visual data required using a UAV. Whilst the pilot is flying, the engineer views what the UAV sees on a separate screen in real-time, to ensure the required data is being captured.

The benefits of using UAVs for transmission inspection include:

Significant cost reductions, thanks to the speed of inspection and reduced downtime
Reduced safety risks, by removing the need to work at height, near live lines or in generally hazardous areas
The ability to quickly gain a huge volume of highly detailed imagery
Engineers reporting to an agreed defect standard, meaning one centralized, consistent approach

Data capture in the field

Not all inspections on SSEN networks are completed by UAVs. Every year, SSEN lines persons also complete condition assessments on towers by ground patrols and climbing inspections, and ESQCR inspections. At SSEN substations, fitters also complete condition assessments, site risk inspections and ESQCR inspections.

To ensure these inspections are completed to a high standard and data is captured consistently with photographic evidence to show each defect, Cyberhawk developed iHawk, software to be used on ruggedized tablets in the field by SSEN’s lines persons and fitters.

The software is intuitive, easy to use and has been created specifically to deal with outdoor condition inspections in the field.

All data is captured in the same format, hosted on the iHawk cloud viewer and used to generate repair and maintenance work orders. These work orders are in turn sent to tablet computers in the field for completion. Once SSEN lines persons have executed the work, images are taken of the repaired component and uploaded back into iHawk for manager approval, maintaining an up-to-date asset condition database. This technology creates ‘one source of truth’, meaning that lines persons in the field are seeing exactly the same data as an asset manager back in an office.

iHawk in action

The key advantage of iHawk is its ability to convert a huge volume of data into powerful and easy to navigate management information, for improved decision-making and decision justification.

Displaying the data on iHawk also gives an at-a-glance view of the asset portfolio, using a map-based interface to highlight location, and colour coded reporting matrix to highlight defect status. This helps simplify the asset management process, allowing managers to focus on operational work.

Additionally, the data captured using iHawk and iSim (our software development specifically for substation asset management) will be integrated into a new asset management system being deployed with in SSEN.

Ian Gray, Head of Transmission Operations and Maintenance at SSEN said: “SSEN has been working with Cyberhawk since 2009, and our confidence in the team’s ability continues to grow. Not only are the experienced pilots able to safely and efficiently capture an extremely intricate level of detail, but the addition of iHawk means we have fit-for-purpose, intuitive asset management software. We regularly refer to the data contained in iHawk to make decisions and develop maintenance schedules.”

Check out the gallery below to see a few examples of iHawk in action.


Power Grid

Cyberhawk was tasked by Siemens, a leading offshore wind energy company, to carry out close visual inspections of three converter stations of transmission system operator TenneT, at the European Economic Zone in December 2016. Cyberhawk was chosen due to our previous experience in successfully inspecting offshore turbines and met masts as well as our visual asset management software, iHawk.

The alternatives, which include using rope access or elevated platforms, would not only have increased man hours on site but also involved working at height which would expose people to more danger. The harsh winter conditions also presented challenges for the pilot and are the reason we mobilize only our most highly trained personnel offshore.

Cyberhawk mobilised a two-man team to undertake the UAV inspections, completing the entire project in seven days which is less than half the time traditional methods would take.


The use of our asset management software, iHawk, allowed Siemens to access high definition images of the whole structure and quickly see the defects identified. This in turn helped quick and effective asset management decisions to be made.

Thanks to Cyberhawk’s inspection team working closely and effectively with a third-party maintenance team, in a single mobilisation, the project proved to be extremely time and cost efficient for Siemens.


Cyberhawk was recently commissioned by a major engineering consultancy to provide an aerial survey of an active Quarry situated in Fife, Scotland.


Power Grid

As part of its framework agreement with SSE, Cyberhawk provided the electricity transmission and distribution operator with topographic survey data and high-resolution aerial photography from over 30 of its substations all over northern Scotland. The projects involved surveys of both new builds and extensions and have been ongoing since 2012.

Mainly multi-rotor UAVs were used to carry out the work and fixed-wing UAVs were also utilized on the larger sites. UAVs allow rapid mobilization and data capture, offering a unique view of the site which provides decision-makers with valuable, actionable data. The deliverables are accessed through Cyberhawk’s cloud-based asset management software, iHawk, which allows all personnel involved in the project to access to the data from any location – often reducing the need for site visits.

The workscopes typically require orthophotos, panoramics and spherical imagery, acquired on a three monthly basis, as well as aerial video and aerial oblique images at some sites. The locations, which range from one to 75 hectares, are often in remote areas and active construction sites.


It was deemed that gathering data utilising Cyberhawk’s UAV solution was the best and safest method for surveying the area. Cyberhawk has a framework with SSE for aerial survey and inspection and has extensive experience in providing aerial survey services in the electricity utilities sector. Since the first construction progress project in 2012 we have had very positive feedback from the client and this service is now requested for all new construction works on its substations.

Capturing regular high-resolution aerial imagery provides SSE and all stakeholders with valuable information on the current progress of the project. As well as access for contractors and consultants, to track and forward plan, the imagery is used on site for site orientation, planning meetings and to assist health and safety.


Power Grid

In March 2015, Cyberhawk was called upon to carry out close visual inspections of 40 distribution towers for a UK energy giant in its southern region south of England. Cyberhawk was one of the first companies to be granted approval to fly in congested areas by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and under CAOSC, we are able to fly our UAVs in crowded areas to within 10m of vehicles, structures and people not under our control.

Very few drone operators would have been able to complete this operation due to the towers being within 50m of major roads, meaning Congested Areas Operating Safety Case (CAOSC) procedures applied. Traditionally, this inspection and maintenance activity would have been carried out by a full-size helicopter and linesman team, however, this was not viable due to the tower's proximity to a major road.

The necessary permissions had to be secured from each individual landowner before Cyberhawk could undertake this CAOSC scope of work..


Cyberhawk’s asset management software, iHawk, allowed the client to quickly understand the condition of each tower and access high definition images of each defect, as well as engineering commentary. These images also allowed the client to see the severity of each defect and therefore prioritize repairs, which would not have been possible through a linesman’s analysis.

The use of UAVs significantly improved safety levels by reducing the requirement for personnel to climb the towers and work at height. Thanks to Cyberhawk’s ability to inspect eight towers per day, versus a linesman who can only climb two to three towers a day, SSE also reported that the project was successfully completed with significant time and cost savings.


Power Grid

Cyberhawk was also required to assess the condition of each structural member on the 275kV line in accordance with the National Grid Technical Specification for steelwork inspection on a bar by bar basis.

Cyberhawk’s asset management software, iHawk, allowed the client to view the tower components in accordance with the agreed defect standard, and access all the high definition images of each defect as well as detailed engineering commentary.

An electricity transmission and distribution network based in Northern Ireland called upon Cyberhawk to conduct close visual inspections of 18 towers and grade the condition of each structure.


During this project the client compared results with linesmen who climbed a percentage of the towers Cyberhawk inspected. This enabled the client to get a high level of confidence in the quality of our UAV inspection results. The team successfully delivered a detailed condition based assessment of each tower to allow the client to prepare for a refurbishment of the line.

Thanks to Cyberhawk’s ability to inspect four towers per day versus a linesman who could only climb two, the client also reported that it was successfully completed with significant time and cost savings.