#ExplainingEnergy: Embracing new technology that helps keep engineers safe

SSE has 1,073 wind turbines in its fleet across the UK and Ireland, which means no less than 3,219 blades to maintain – no easy feat.

Traditionally this would have to be done by engineers abseiling down the turbines to manually inspect them for wear and tear; or more recently by sending engineers up to the blades on mobile platforms, or cherry pickers.

The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or remote-controlled drones looked like the perfect solution. And this summer SSE has been working closely with Cyberhawk Innovations to carry out visual inspections of its blades using UAVs across its wind farms.

Calum Hume, Operations Manager for SSE, explains: “Traditionally inspecting the turbines on our windfarms was a costly, potentially risky and time consuming process. We’d literally have to abseil down the blades or manually inspect them from a cherry picker. Our wind farms are in windy places so ensuring our engineers were safe at all times took a lot of planning and preparation.

“By using drones we can get the job done remotely which is a huge boost from both a safety and efficiency viewpoint. We can inspect a turbine in two hours when it used to take all day. The technology of the cameras is very sophisticated, meaning our engineers can sift through good quality footage from the comfort and safety of an office environment.”

Kevin Shanks, Mechanical Engineer from SSE, elaborates: “The use of drone technology allows SSE to remove the risk associated with traditional inspection methods, including even climbing the tower. This allows a safe, fast and efficient inspection of turbines without anyone needing to leave ground level.

“Over recent years the associated technology in the cameras, lasers, GPS, scaling and reporting have developed to the extent that drones are now the inspection solution of choice.”

Cyberhawk’s drone inspection solution captures images of the entire blade surface of every turbine, allowing wind engineers to locate and categorise defects which can then be addressed.

This information is delivered through Cyberhawk’s cloud based software, iHawk; which in turn will help SSE determine its maintenance schedule for 2016 and beyond.

Click here to see drone video footage taken at SSE’s Griffin windfarm by Cyberhawk.