The ever-growing demand for power necessitates continued technological innovation and the development of new solutions for transmission network expansion and maintenance. Traditional methods for monitoring and planning, such as field surveys and airborne surveys, are time-consuming, prone to error and pose various other technical challenges. In order to address transmission network-related challenges (including towers) such as right-of-way constraints (RoW), technical difficulties in executing projects in difficult terrain and land acquisition issues, new technologies for transmission network planning are gaining traction.
New and emerging technologies
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAVs) offer a versatile method for obtaining high-resolution aerial data for power line and tower monitoring. They provide several advantages, such as the ability to fly in close proximity to power lines and their substantially reduced operational expenses compared to helicopters. The field of UAVs, also known as unmanned aerial systems, aerial robots, drones or remotely piloted aerial systems, is a rapidly expanding area with numerous potential applications.
Light detection and ranging (LiDAR) is another crucial method for conducting aerial surveys in power transmission. It aids in optimising route corridors for transmission lines and determining tower positions through topographic mapping. The data obtained from a LiDAR survey can be seamlessly integrated into modelling software, enabling cost-effective options for alignment, tower design and tower placement. Furthermore, LiDAR effectively captures both natural and man-made objects beneath and around transmission lines, providing valuable information for locating towers and assessing their structural integrity.
Additionally, geographic information system (GIS)-based corridor mapping tools are used for asset mapping and route planning when establishing new transmission lines and towers. They also assess vulnerabilities during events such as floods and fires. Mobile app-based inspection solutions further aid utilities in monitoring the complex electrical grid in real time. These apps enable the identification of towers based on GPS coordinates and offer biometrics-based authentication for maintenance personnel. The combined use of UAVs/drones and GIS-based corridor mapping enhances the accuracy and detail of pre-construction surveys.
Drones offer numerous benefits to project developers throughout various project phases, enhancing efficiency, cost-effectiveness and safety for power system inspections. During the bidding stage, transmission utilities use drones to assess potential site locations, design layouts, create 3D visualisations and estimate RoW requirements. Drones equipped with data analytics systems, including machine learning and artificial intelligence, help anticipate future vegetation and RoW challenges. They enable detailed line surveys and pre-pilot rope pulling, and are especially effective when equipped with LiDAR sensors to conduct versatile terrain surveys during the construction phase. They also allow the real-time monitoring of construction progress and worker activities.
Prefabrication and modularisation are increasingly emerging as favoured methods in the transmission system, offering multiple advantages, including improved quality control, quicker installation, cost reduction and eco-friendly practices. Tower components and substation elements such as switchgear and transformers are prefabricated and modularised under controlled conditions to ensure quality. These pre-manufactured components are then easily assembled on-site, reducing installation time and minimising disruptions to power lines, resulting in efficient and cost-effective transmission system infrastructure development and maintenance.
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies are revolutionising tower surveys and equipment inspections. AR, through industrial smart helmets and simultaneous localisation and mapping (SLAM) technology, allows inspectors to view equipment status, sensor data trends and inspection results in real time, enhancing efficiency and understanding. AR technology also enables electronic fences for safety warnings in power operation sites, while SLAM provides visual warnings for high-voltage and high-altitude operations, keeping operators vigilant. VR allows users to engage in in-depth communication and make design adjustments through smart glasses and gesture-based interaction, moving beyond the limitations of 2D drawings and fostering a shared understanding among participants. These immersive technologies are poised to replace traditional paper records and enhance planning.
Given the anticipated expansion of the transmission network, especially with the integration of large-scale renewables, utilities need to embrace advanced mapping and surveillance solutions. This is vital to expedite transmission project development and ensure the effectiveness of existing lines and towers. To incentivise utilities to adopt technologies such as drones, UAVs, LiDAR, SAR images, optical satellite and aerial images, thermal imaging, airborne laser scanner data, land-based mobile mapping data and UAV data, it is essential to streamline the rules and regulations governing their deployment.