Article first published on August 17th, 2018.
Sterblue is now deploying its automatic distribution grid inspection solution over two continents (maybe soon three, but shhh no spoilers yet) ! Last week I returned from a ten day trip to the Ivory Coast in order to deploy Sterblue’s solutions to our local customer; African Techno Lab, a partnership company of the CIE (Compagnie Ivoirienne d’Électricité)Africa far away from the clichés
Do you know that mobile payments are more developed in Africa than anywhere else in the world ? Well perhaps in a few years we will say the same regarding electrical grid drone-based inspections !
What is so special in Ivory coast ?
Outage time per customer (OTC) is one of the main KPIs to assess the quality of a distribution grid. Well guess what, Ivory Coast has the lowest in West Africa. Still it doesn’t mean everything is perfect, the good performance remains relative to its neighbouring countries poor performance :
Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hit hard by wars and their electrical infrastructures have been severely damaged. In Ghana and Togo the poor OTC comes from the fact that the electrical grid companies are state owned with little means and important bureaucracy.
Ivory Coast has taken a different path; It has granted the CIE (private company in which the state holds shares) a concession to operate and maintain the transmission and distribution Ivorian grid.
The CIE also decided to form partnerships with small local companies allowing them to remain agile on innovative topics. That’s what they did with African Techno Lab operating drones for the CIE and Sterblue was there to train and accompany them during their first automatic inspection missions.
So firstly, why do we inspect grids ?
Technical infrastructure inspections are required to prevent any kind of big failure (and potential associated safety issues) and to ensure a high quality of service (OTC). The vegetation in the area is also growing fast and needs to be monitored as well.
Drones in African Techno Lab
Drones are an excellent alternative to helicopters in terms of cost and safety. African Techno Lab started to use differents kind of systems to monitor the grid (long distance drones, stationary flight, etc.). DJI Phantom 4 Pro are used for technical inspection of the distribution grid.
What we did for ATL/CIE
Before reaching this 4x4 step, it was necessary to gather data input from the Ivorian distribution grid in order to generate the 3D complex flight plan with the Ivorian team. Once this grid modelling was done, a few pilots from ATL were trained to use the Sterblue automatic navigation application and the first real automatic 3D data capture mission could be done!
Pictures of the inspections were then uploaded to the Sterblue platform for automatic defects detection and validation by CIE experts. The platform generates automatic inspection report, which allow maintenance teams planning their repair operations optimally.
Challenge of operations in Africa
- During the rainy season, everything is much more complicated : tracks to inspection site become very muddy; inspection flights are difficult to program : if the drone is in the air when it starts raining it can quickly be damaged but it was nice to be able to overcome this challenge and move forward in working with the Ivorian team!
- Almost no spare drones parts in Ivory Coast if needed (no extra P4P batteries sold in Abidjan, no remote controllers etc.)
- Asset monitoring philosophy to be changed : today, the philosophy is often, as long as it is not broken it does not need to be repaired.
- Ivorian grid is digitized (Lidar data available) over a large part of their network unlike some European countries.
- Well educated and trained people, excellent awareness of new emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and the value they could get with it!
Bonus, we also did a premiere ;)
Fully automatic inspection of two big 85 meters transmission towers in less than 45 minutes 90 kV and 225 kV ! But we’ll tell you more about it in a future article :-)