The commercial market for drone technology applications across the global power and utilities industry could be worth as much as $9.46bn a year up to 2021 according to analysis from PwC.

From flame-throwing drones used to clear rubbish from power lines and pre-investment planning geospatial surveys to monitoring construction projects, it’s becoming increasingly apparent how this cutting-edge technology can positively impact the industry.
This analysis is featured in a new report, Leveraging drone technologies for Utilities, which looks at how unmanned aerial vehicles are disrupting the way companies build, operate and maintain their networks.  By turning to drones to solve some of the industry’s most thorny problems, creative utilities managers are not only increasing the reliability of their systems but worker safety.

Steve Jennings, PwC’s UK power and utilities leader, commented, “Here in the UK, utilities are at the early stages of drone adoption, and the projects we are seeing tend to have very specific objectives. As utilities gain experience with this technology, we expect to see more evidence of the accumulation of drone collected data across wider programmes and tighter integration with other sources of management data.”

“As well as being a more efficient way of gathering standardised, tangible data that people on the ground or in manned aerial vehicles, it’s worth noting that they can also do it in a fraction of the time and without risking human life.”

“Just owning drone equipment will not be a differentiator, however, it’s how utilities apply drones-captured image data in fields such as power plants, electrical substations or power lines and continue to innovate that will allow them to gain a competitive advantage.”

Part of PwC’s Clarity from Above series, the report highlights specific areas to benefit from drone technology. For example, one of the single biggest maintenance costs in most countries is dealing with threats such as overgrown vegetation and trees near power lines – issues that can prove to be even more problematic and dangerous during storms, such as the aftermath of the recent Hurricane Ophelia. Drones can make the trimming process more efficient, as well as providing data that helps predict and avoid damage from falling trees.

Water utilities are also finding that drones can be more useful than satellites in the process of monitoring water quality. PwC’s Geospatial.App software allows the integration, presentation and management of mapping data gathered by drones equipped with visual, infrared and other cameras. This is useful across areas such as monitoring infrastructure construction, tracking the need for maintenance and assessing damage after natural or man-made disasters.Drone
PwC’s Drone Powered Solutions Partner, Michał Mazur, said: “The power and utilities sector faces numerous new challenges as it stands on the threshold of a digital revolution. Pressure to shift to renewables from fossil fuels, while reducing prices, is forcing companies to look for new ways to stay profitable. As companies reinvent their business models, drones are helping increase the reliability of energy production, transmission and distribution.”

Global power transmission networks are forecast to increase to 6.8 million circuit kilometres in 2020, up 15 per cent from the 2016 level, as energy production is reshaped by the rise of renewables, and demand grows in emerging markets such as China and India.

Regulators are increasingly concerned about reliability, offering incentives to reduce outages and penalties for downtime. Every year the sector loses $169bn due to energy network failures and forced shutdowns.

Norbert Schwieters, PwC’s global power and utilities leader, said: “To remain competitive on the market, and stay current in the changing business ecosystem which is being challenged by new technologies, companies from the power and utilities sector need to broaden their horizons. They need to perceive new technologies, such as drones, as opportunities to increase effectiveness, reduce costs and improve internal processes.”

This is the third report in PwC’s Clarity from Above series. The first, in May 2016, looked at the overall global market for applications of drone technology, estimating its value at more than $127bn. The second report found a $45bn market for applications in the transport infrastructure sector. The link to this latest report is:

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