As the energy industry undergoes significant and rapid change electricity network businesses such as Essential Energy are looking to new technology to improve operational efficiencies, including new technology to improve inspection and condition assessment.

New pole inspection technology provides new perspective Essential Energy is responsible for building, operating and maintaining one of Australia’s largest electricity networks, delivering essential electricity network services to more than 800,000 homes and businesses across 95 per cent of NSW and parts of southern Queensland.

Luke Jenner, General Manager Network Services at Essential Energy, said technology offered an opportunity to improve energy affordability and reliability for customers.

“Our use of technology is part of our continued focus on best practice systems which in turn increases productivity, provides best value for customers, and enhances employee health and safety,” Mr Jenner said.

“Recent additions to the Essential Energy toolkit include new pole inspection technology, increased use of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data for strategic asset management, and a growing fleet of drones to provide a new network perspective.”

New drills provide more accurate data

An essential energy field worker using drone technology in the field.

It is estimated the use of new drill technology will deliver Essential Energy annual cost savings of $1.3 million and provide improved asset condition data through more accurate pole density measurements.

“From July 2018, new hand-held automated wood inspection drills are being rolled out following a successful field trial of the new equipment across seven environmental zones,” Mr Jenner said.

“Our extensive field trial of the drills late last year found that the improved ergonomics meant that they were easier to handle for asset inspectors than current equipment and resulted in less injuries.”

 The new drills automatically drill through the diameter of the pole whilst measuring the resistance to drilling. This information is stored electronically and analysed to provide an extremely accurate picture of pole condition.

“The inspection procedure itself is less invasive and minimises damage to the pole structure as there is significant reduction in the need to drill larger inspection holes in all poles,” Mr Jenner said.

A critical component of the technology is the improved measure of remaining pole timber compared with current methodology, enabling better pole defect identification.

Improving network condition data

Essential Energy uses a variety of tools and resources to monitor network asset condition from both the air and ground.

The introduction of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology in 2014 improved Essential Energy’s network condition data.

“LiDAR allows for the measurement of distance between powerlines and vegetation, the ground and surrounding structures using aircraft-mounted laser imaging, in conjunction with high-definition photography. The images provide details of Essential Energy’s assets with precision and accuracy,” Mr Jenner said.

In 2017, this data moved to cloud-based storage technology which improved access and accuracy of data collected through this process.

“LiDAR images are now easily accessible by our asset managers via the cloud. They are catalogued annually and quarantined for quality assurance testing to vastly improve the effectiveness of strategic asset management,” Mr Jenner said.

“We will provide data for field-based employees to view on mobile devices, use LiDAR with Essential Energy systems for in-house analysis, and provide external parties with restricted access for further analysis. This improves the resource availability, creates cost-effective outcomes and reduces risks associated with defects.”

A lidar image helping to better understand the environmental impacts of assets.

Look to the skies

Another aerial technology recently introduced by Essential Energy to improve planning and scheduling works is drone technology. Fifteen drones are now in operation in Armidale, Bega, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Hastings, Tamworth, Tumut, Tweed and Wagga Wagga with the fleet expected to increase in the future.

“Drones are enabling our workforce with mobile solutions that enhance safety, drive efficiency and expand on employee capability with new technology,” Mr Jenner said.

“Successful trials have shown the value drones add by putting staff safety at the forefront, delivering productivity outcomes and returning vital data on the condition of assets.”

Some jobs previously required staff to use elevated work platforms or even physically climb poles – often multiple times.

These are now being completed with limited risks for staff and at times in areas that were inaccessible for vehicles or equipment, such as flooded or mountainous terrain.

“Not only can asset condition now be assessed in a safer manner, but drone technology is dramatically reducing the time needed to complete radial live line inspections, as well as identify and resolve faults,” Mr Jenner said.

Overall, Essential Energy’s focus on technology, best practice systems and customer-centred outcomes will provide value for its 1500 local communities served.

“New tools and technology will allow us to deliver innovative solutions that improve the affordability, reliability and resilience of energy into the future,” Mr Jenner said. 

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