The EIC and its network partners from across the gas and electricity sectors have been crowned the winners of the ‘Partnership Initiative of the Year’ at the Network Awards 2020 for the Above & Beyond project.
Launched in 2018 by the EIC and led by Wales & West Utilities, the Above and Beyond project brings together innovative aviation experts, Callen-Lenz and key industry players including Cadent, National Grid Gas Transmission, Northern Gas Networks, Northern Powergrid, Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks and UK Power Networks, to explore how the application of drone technology could transform the way the utilities industry carries out essential maintenance tasks. Facilitated by the EIC, the partners are also supported by the Connected Places Catapult, and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
This large-scale, NIA funded, collaborative project is a designated Government Drone Pathfinder Project and is both an industry and UK-first.
The initiative began in 2011 when the EIC identified a common desire amongst its partners to replace existing inspection techniques with drones to increase efficiency, lower their carbon footprint and increase levels of safety.
An initial project was launched in 2014 with the aim to define an industry standard specification for Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) operating BVLOS for electricity distribution and gas pipeline network aerial inspections, confirmed by the CAA.
Following the completion of this 18-month project, the EIC engaged in discussions with the Department for Transport, the CAA and Connected Places Catapult, to establish the next steps required in the journey towards creating a regulated framework for the use of drones BVLOS across UK network assets. It was from these discussions that the EIC presented their partners with an opportunity to collaborate in a call for innovation, with a view to identifying a suitable innovator to deliver the project.
Over 30 innovators expressed an interest in the call and Callen-Lenz were selected by the network partners to develop the Above & Beyond project, with support from the CAA and Connected Places Catapult.
The project will see a series of 'concepts of operation' developed. These include a test phase where visual monitoring of the airspace will be required, through to testing the drone in an un-separated airspace.
Denise Massey, managing director at the EIC said,
“Cross sector projects of this size and complexity take time and tenacity. It’s important to recognise that without the innovation funding structures we have in place via Ofgem, this type of project would be very difficult to make a reality. I’m delighted for all the networks who have been involved to receive this award as recognition of their achievement to date.
“Over the last nine years the EIC and our partners have committed resources and expertise to make this happen and I’m proud that this project will be used as an example of best practice and demonstrates that together, we can move innovation forward meaningfully for the benefit of all.”
The prestigious awards are recognised industry wide as showcasing the most innovative and collaborative projects across the UK energy networks, innovators and stakeholders. See the full list of winners here.