Drones measuring electric fields are used to check the state of the grid in Great Britain

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In a joint effort between the University of Manchester and the UK’s National Electricity Authority, a cutting-edge drone-mounted system is being developed to measure the electric fields of overhead power lines. This three-year, £1.1 million endeavor, supported by Ofgem’s Network Innovation Allowance (NIA), aims to engineer sensor technology that can effectively monitor the condition of high-voltage insulators on power lines.

Typically made of glass or ceramic, these insulators play a critical role in shielding the poles that support the transmission lines from becoming energized.

Understanding Insulator Electric Field Profiles

Each insulator generates a unique electric field, and any deviations in their profiles can be indicative of faults. By equipping Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) with individual electric field sensors, the Electricity Board can scrutinize insulators and ensure the safety of the lines in real-time. This approach is estimated to save around £2.8 million over a 15-year period.

The technology is currently under development and will undergo testing in the University of Manchester’s high-voltage laboratory, which boasts equipment capable of handling up to 600 kV DC, 800 kV AC, and 2 MV pulse.

Maximizing Resilience for a Low Carbon Future

Dr. Vidyadhar Peesapati, a member of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Manchester, emphasizes the need to bolster the resilience of overhead lines, which he describes as “the UK’s electricity backbone.” This pioneering project endeavors to address this challenge and advance the UK towards a low carbon future that provides both reliability and value to consumers.

Digital Twins and Advanced Algorithms

In addition to refining the sensor hardware, the project will generate digital twins for various insulators to study the electric field profile under different conditions. This will enable the team to design algorithms optimized for assessing insulator health. The researchers are also working on miniaturizing the sensor technology, transforming it into a drone-mountable system.

This electric field drone initiative follows a separate NIA-funded project where the Electric Utility is exploring autonomous drones for visually inspecting pole corrosion and overhead line conditions.

Embracing Drone Technology for Grid Maintenance

Nicola Todd, Head of Strategy and Innovation at National Grid Electricity Transmission, expresses enthusiasm for the increasing adoption of drones in grid health monitoring activities. Innovations like the electric field sensing system offer exciting opportunities to ensure the network remains reliable and secure in the future.

Todd looks forward to collaborating with experts and test equipment in Manchester to develop groundbreaking monitoring technologies that will help maintain the grid’s integrity while saving consumers money.

Source: theengineer.co.uk

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