Ville Kortelainen, Technical Manager, at AW-Energy Oy, and qualified drone operator, talks about the value of drone deployment to support the assembly for the first commercially-ready wave energy device at Peniche in Portugal.
In recent years, it seems that the skies have been denser with these flying machines. Like the internet and GPS before them, drones are evolving beyond their military origin to become powerful business tools. They’ve already made the leap to the consumer market, and now they’re being put to work in commercial and civil government applications from firefighting to farming, and in our case manufacturing, assembly and inspection.
I have been using drones to document the most significant stages of the latest WaveRoller project in Portugal. As a technical manager supervising the day-to-day works at Peniche, in Portugal, the days are often very busy checking, inspecting and ensuring progress is happening on time with stakeholder groups across the supply chain, and within the safety parameters of our checks and inspections.
Drones offer our company incredible versatility. They provide a high level of oversight and content generation that offers value and technical insight such as generating data to help with our daily morning briefings and decision making with multiple teams, through to monitoring progress of the component assembly from the air, and even providing ‘eyes in the sky’ view to support visual awareness. One of the advantages of WaveRoller being just 820 m from the shore in Peniche, is that it is easily within drone range from a flight operator based onshore – and it offers us a very cost effective way of monitoring our offshore energy devices from the air. Combining this approach with our automated condition monitoring built-in to each WaveRoller device, and regular diving inspections, gives total peace of mind to the investor and industry that the device is performing as planned.
The challenge I have is that while flying the device has a critical commercial importance to how we operate our projects, it also offers me an incredible amount of enjoyment in the process to create cinematic production with a drone’s ability to produce highly quality aerial footage – it presents a completely new way of working.
Up, up and away
My drone flying career began in 2004 on the Faroe Islands on a volunteer project. I was taught to fly by a former U.S. army Apache helicopter and drone pilot, and over the years I have been filming for commercial coverage and also for pleasure. The DJI Mavic Air drone is my current drone of choice for the weather patterns and technical deployment here in Portugal, not least for its ease of use, packing and transportation, while at home in Finland I own a DJI Inspire 1.
The first-of-a-kind wave energy project in Portugal is to showcase to the world the viability of wave energy and to help with providing that insight. Drones help us to document specific details of each work stage. With the work assembly complete we have used the drone to help record every detail of the WaveRoller’s assembly which includes the big lifts on the harbour side. Drones offer us that bird’s-eye view that maps out progress more efficiently than a surveyor would be able to on foot.
We’ve also monitored the laying of the sea cable from the land station to the deployment site to ensure every element of the installation is recorded and visually inspected. It is a great opportunity to document the procedures and film a high level of material that can quickly be sent to work colleagues located across the world. This helps our experts to maintain in-depth awareness of this project at any time, 24/7, where instant connectivity and communication is available.
With this capability, drones are already shaping how we operate and communicate on projects. Each of us on a project are business managers of complex operations and everything we do has to increase the return on investment for a given project. Drones can generate accurate mapping of our wave energy device, monitor change over time, and helps us share insights on the cloud. Data gathering is more accurate, and it drives an unprecedented level of analytics.
Increasing industry applications
Drones are particularly valuable for inspecting difficult-to-reach areas at certain altitudes or in challenging environments. For example, in Finland and across Europe, we have seen the use of drones already revolutionize telecommunication tower inspections, where a drone can implement monitoring activities at a fraction of traditional costs and time.
Within our own renewables industry we are seeing drones deployed for use in aerial analysis of renewable energy infrastructure, and including pipelines, solar panels, electric grids and offshore platforms. Drones can also employ thermal imaging cameras to identify ‘hotspots’ on solar panels where energy is not transmitting properly. This can increase plant productivity by quickly identifying potentially damaged areas. We are also experiencing different areas of the industry using drones to capture when something doesn’t go to plan, and to quickly determine the cause, liability, responsibility and assessment of damage either to an infrastructure or the surrounding environment. For us at AW-Energy, the use of drones on a project helps our experts react more quickly in a critical situation and eliminate the risk of human exposure in dangerous situations.
In my view drones are not a fad – they are here to stay offering us an incredible new dimension to how we record, identify and progress energy projects, safely and sustainably. We are just now touching the tip of the iceberg in terms of harnessing the true power of drones for business operations, and new ways of conducting our business operations. The decrease in delays in gathering data is having more of an impact each day. The ability to manage our workflow is unprecedented and is certain to have a significant impact on all manner of our processes in the future.
As an Economist report identified, “Trying to imagine how drones will evolve, and the uses to which they will be put, is a bit like trying to forecast the evolution of computing in the 1960s or mobile phones in the 1980s. Their potential as business tools was clear at the time, but the technology developed in unexpected ways. The same will surely be true of drones.”