Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks goes digital with drones

By Chris Fleming, Cyberhawk

Faults and disturbances can have a significant effect across a transmission network. For Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) transmission arm, the loss of any key power corridor can mean the loss of vital green energy from Scotland’s renewable generation base or the loss of customer supplies.

This is why SSEN Transmission’s activities are focused on a robust inspection and maintenance program, which of course includes engineers climbing transmission towers to carry out routine inspections. But this activity is not only laborious, it also and requires circuit outages and has the obvious inherent risks associated with working at height.

Drones are a safer alternative for inspections

Since SSEN Transmission is committed to providing a safe and secure supply of electricity, inspections must be done and that’s why the utility turned to Cyberhawk to help the company conduct regular drone-based inspections, which are safer than the in-person alternative.

By conducting drone inspections regularly and ensuring the data is efficiently processed and accessed on iHawk, Cyberhawk’s data analytics tool, SSEN Transmission’s operational teams can identify issues early, focusing interventions on the highest priority items before they fail.

Earlier this year, through Cyberhawk’s visual inspection data, SSEN Transmission was able to identify a missing split pin on a tower insulator fitting. An outage was planned, and a repair was carried out the following weekend. If it wasn’t for the drone data being available on iHawk, it could have resulted in a failure, causing a network fault on a key transmission circuit.

By ensuring their transmission lines are kept in top condition, SSEN Transmission can retain the current high level of network reliability at the lowest cost possible, ensuring it delivers the best value for consumers.

Stuart Knight, Head of Operations and Maintenance at SSEN Transmission, said he’s been “extremely impressed” with the quality of inspection data and functionality of the Cyberhawk tool, adding that “iHawk’s innovative approach to data management is key to managing our network assets, central to how our operations team manage inspections, maintenance, safety, and compliance.”

Data collection supports compliance

SSEN Transmission also used Cyberhawk to help it pass an audit of the Electricity Safety, Quality, and Continuity Regulations (ESQCR), which are enforced by the Health Safety Executive (HSE).

ESQC Regulations (2002) dictate that electricity distribution and transmission companies must inspect and maintain accurate records of their assets. With iHawk, those records were at SSEN Transmission’s fingertips, allowing it to rapidly access historic information because it was in one centralized place, categorized and easy to navigate. SSEN can use the data to pinpoint critical information, such as the general condition data, the number of defects reported during any given period and in any given area or circuit, and they are even able to detail the work orders that had been raised.

As a result, SSEN Transmission demonstrated its commitment to safety and compliance with the regulation.

Data helps reduce environmental impact

The utility also understood that the digitalization of its systems and processes, underpinned by rich, local, and accessible data, reinforces its commitment to reducing its environmental impact, in line with COP26. For example, SF6 (Sulphur hexafluoride) has been used extensively as an insulation medium in high voltage equipment for over 60 years. However, in 2005 the Kyoto protocol identified the gas mixture as a greenhouse gas. With little in the way of proven alternatives, SSEN Transmission works tirelessly to improve leakage performance of its SF6 assets and since the Cyberhawk team recently introduced a new pressure monitoring system that will allow SSEN Transmission to remotely monitor an asset’s SF6 density, this task was made easier.

The pressure monitoring system has integrated an IoT sensor that monitors the colorless, odorless, synthetic gas for any leaks. As soon as the system identifies a reading, regardless of the volume and how minor the leak, the operations team is alerted so that they can take remedial action immediately, limiting the effect on the environment. This will not only enable proactive management of SF6 leaks, but also improve network performance, allowing outages for gas top-ups to be coordinated in a wider program.

Covid-19: business as usual

When the impact of Covid-19 on the UK population became clear at the start of 2020, many businesses faced disruption of their day-to-day operations.

Keeping power supplied in the form of gas and electricity has been essential throughout the pandemic, and more pressure than ever was placed on utility companies and their employees to continue to deliver this essential service.

SSEN Transmission has an unwavering commitment to keeping its people safe; in fact, its motto is: “if it’s not safe, we don’t do it.”  Therefore, the utility faced the challenge of ensuring critical inspection and maintenance activity was carried out while complying with the social distancing requirements.

The iHawk tablets and associated work order systems had shown their worth long before then, but with no reliance on paper-based systems of old, the need for face-to-face contact between the maintenance teams and engineering staff was kept to a minimum.

Indeed, the iHawk defect reporting functionality enabled efficient reporting of defects identified during substation and overhead line inspections, allowing team members to tag defect notices to any given asset or location, with the ability to add pictorial evidence and user commentary before autonomously passing to maintenance managers for approval and scheduling.

The tool is an important part of SSEN’s O&M, said Knight. “iHawk is embedded into the operations teams now, and when a new recruit joins, they receive a tutorial of how to use the tool as part of their training program, and it very quickly becomes their natural guide to operational life at SSEN Transmission.”


About the Author

Chris Fleming is recognized as a pioneer in the UAV inspection industry. Having personally carried out over 150 live flare inspections to date, he still leads field teams on the most technically challenging projects for Cyberhawk. As an offshore Inspection Engineer, Chris has spent the last 20 years working around the globe in Australia, Norway, the North Sea, the Middle East, Malaysia and Brunei. Prior to joining Cyberhawk, Chris specialized in Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) operations with his last seven years on the Captain FPSO.


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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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