Powercor launches drone inspection trial in The Otways

23 September 2020

Electricity distributor Powercor is conducting a trial of aerial drone technology as it considers new and better ways of inspecting poles and powerlines across hard to reach areas of western Victoria.

Remotely piloted drones, fitted with advanced cameras and thermal imaging devices, will patrol powerlines across more than 100 kilometres in dense forest between Colac, Apollo Bay and Lorne.

Over the next two weeks, the DJI Matrice 300 RTK Drone will be flown about 30m above ground level and close to powerlines and poles in the area, capturing images of pole tops, equipment such as transformers, and powerlines.

Specialist teams will then assess the data, identifying items that need maintenance or upgrades.

Powercor’s Manager, Risk and Assurance, Dene Ward, said the Otways was one of the most heavily-forested and difficult terrains for crews to access, making it the ideal place for the trial.

“Some of our assets in these areas are not accessible by road and can also be difficult to reach on foot, so we’re excited to see how this technology can make it quicker, safer and easier to inspect our network all year round,” Mr Ward said.

“We don’t expect drones to replace other inspection techniques including foot patrols and the aerial inspections we do each year for vegetation management.
“They have the potential to become a valuable part of our overall program to keep the network safe and reliable.”

The drones will be flying at a speed of u to 50km/h between poles, spending about 2 minutes at each pole hovering above electricity assets to capture images. The inspections will not impact homes and businesses, and data will be securely stored. Powercor is directly notifying property owners living near the flight path.

Earlier this year Powercor conducted one of the most detailed patrols of the network in The Otways, using mostly foot patrols, as part of efforts to improve reliability in the region.

Two teams took more than 2 weeks to patrol the entire length of high voltage feeders running from Colac to Apollo Bay, making detailed ground-based observation of each pole and all electrical equipment along the way.

With summer approaching, Powercor is ahead of schedule on all inspection and maintenance activities compared to the same time last year. So far, crews have cut vegetation from 51,025 powerline spans (distance between two power poles), including 32,613 spans in hazardous bushfire risk areas.

Powercor is also well progressed on its annual aerial LIDAR scanning, which takes laser measurements of power assets and vegetation nearby, to inform the cutting program.

For more information about Powercor’s bushfire mitigation program, visit www.powercor.com.au