How Early Adoption of Drone Tech Helped Utility Provider Keep Lights On

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18 Aug 2021

Renowned as a pioneer within the power industry, SSEN Transmission is no stranger to new ideas or innovation. That’s why, when we say that they utilize drone and digital solutions, we might be downplaying it a little - because they’ve been using the technology for almost ten years.

At the end of last year, SSEN Transmission published its digital strategy. It outlined SSEN's 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 come into play.

Cyberhawk has revolutionized the way that utility companies like SSEN Transmission capture, store and manage 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.

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 Scotland’s 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.

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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.

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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.

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If you’re interested in finding out how Cyberhawk and iHawk can support your project,

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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

As the impact of Covid-19 became clear at the beginning of 2020, many businesses faced disruption to their day-to-day operations.

Keeping power supplied in the form of gas and electricity was 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 the paper-based systems of old, the need for face-to-face contact between the maintenance teams and engineering staff was kept to a minimum.

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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.

A few words

On the Cyberhawk service offering, 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."