Power and utilities drone market worth more than $9bn

24th November 2017 By: Donna Slater - Creamer Media Contributing Editor and Photographer

The international drone market, comprising solutions that use drones for the power and utilities industries, is worth as much as $9.46-billion a year, according to a report published by professional services firm PwC.

The latest report, ‘Clarity from above: leveraging drone technologies to secure utilities systems’, the third in the series, is compiled by PwC’s global drone-powered solutions team. The latest iteration details how creative uses of unmanned aerial vehicles are disrupting the way companies build, operate and maintain their networks.

The series, first released in May 2016, focuses on the overall global market for the application of drone technology, and its value is estimated at more than $127-billion. The second report valued the market for applications in the transport infrastructure sector at $45-billion.

One of the more interesting developments highlighted in the current report is the innovative example of a drone fitted with a flamethrower, which can be used to clear rubbish from power lines.

More regular and commonplace applications for drones range from geospatial surveys in preinvestment planning, the monitoring of the construction process and managing assets to proactively deal with threats such as overgrown vegetation.

The report also points out that creative utility managers worldwide are turning to drones to solve some of the industry’s most intractable problems, including increasing machinery reliability and worker safety. For example, in most countries, monitoring vegetation growth and trimming trees near power lines comprise the biggest maintenance cost for power companies. Drones can make the trimming process more efficient and provide data that helps predict and avoid damage caused by falling trees.

PwC Africa power and utilities leader Chris Bredenhann says the potential of drones to assist in maintaining power and utilities networks is significant. “Not only can drones gather standardised tangible data in a more efficient way than people located on the ground but [they can] also – unlike manned aerial vehicles – do so without risking human life.”

Further, he notes that drone-based inspections can be carried out without having to halt the power supply.

“Such advantages are crucial, as more . . . countries are implementing regulations awarding financial incentives to companies that improve reliability or imposing penalties on those that fail to meet targets,” says Bredenhann.

In line with expected electricity demand growth in emerging markets, such as China and India, PwC forecasts that, worldwide, power transmission networks are set to increase to 6.8-million circuit kilometres by 2020 – up 15% from 2016. This expansion of electricity networks is in line with energy production being reshaped with the growth in renewables.

PwC drone-powered solutions partner Michal Mazur says the power and utilities sector faces many challenges, as it stands on the threshold of a digital revolution. “Pressure to shift to renewables while reducing prices is forcing companies to look for new ways to stay profitable.”