Ontario Power Generation (OPG) operates 65 hydroelectric stations and 240 dams on 24 river systems in Ontario. They produce approximately half of the electricity used in the province, over a third of which is hydroelectric power.
The New York Power Authority (NYPA) is the largest state public power organization in the United States, with 16 generating facilities and more than 1,400 circuit-miles of transmission lines. More than 70 percent of the electricity that NYPA produces is hydroelectric power.
Each year, OPG and the NYPA deploy an ice boom on the Niagara River to help prevent costly ice build-ups at the hydroelectric stations downriver. Visually inspecting the ice boom can be a tough and time-consuming job. The Aeryon SkyRangerTM small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) cuts the inspection time from a full day to three hours, while keeping inspectors out of harm’s way.
INDUSTRY: Utility Inspection | REGION: Ontario, Canada and New York, USA
Keeping the Niagara River clear of dangerous ice conditions during the cold winter months requires the cooperation of power utilities on both sides of the border. Every winter, the utilities deploy a 2,680-metre (8,800-foot) ice boom across the width of the river. Constructed of 22 spans, each with up to 10 pontoons, the boom helps prevent large ice flows from damaging equipment or reducing the water flow.
The utilities must inspect the boom whenever they see ice passing through it and after significant weather events. Inspectors can start with images from two stationary cameras mounted to a building on the U.S. side of the river. However, these cameras don’t capture the views needed and low-resolution images lack the detail needed to pinpoint issues. Even if the cameras identify a problem, they can’t provide an exact location. So, the inspectors must methodically check each span and pontoon to find the problem.
Helicopters and planes can perform a visual inspection, but neither is cost-effective. Teams can also use an icebreaker to inspect each pontoon individually. But, windy conditions make the river dangerous, often preventing the icebreaker’s launch. Even if the icebreaker can launch, negotiating an ice-filled waterway is difficult and requires an experienced captain and crew wearing survival suits. And then, the icebreaker might take an entire day to do a visual inspection.
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“We knew that it would be more efficient if we could do aerial inspections with SkyRanger, but repairing a break in the boom in three hours is a record!” says Tim Trebilcock from OPG. “The SkyRanger identified in 10 minutes what used to take a whole day to locate.”
- With the SkyRanger, OPG can typically have data within three hours of the first indication of an issue, a sharp decrease from the usual day-long inspection time
- Giving the repair team the precise location and details of an issue allows them to plan their route more accurately and develop a strategy for a more effective, timely repair
- With the decrease in inspection time, OPG can perform more frequent checks to help proactively identify conditions that might lead to breaks in the boom
- Trainees build their expertise using the high-definition images and videos from the field as resources
With OPG representatives directing the flight, the Aeryon team launched the SkyRanger from the Ontario side of the river and flew low over the length of the boom. Even with fog over the river from the near-freezing temperatures, rain, and wind gusts of up to 40 km/h (25 mph), the SkyRanger and Vector™ enabled HDZoom30 camera sent back clear images and video.
From the shore, the OPG team identified a break between two of the pontoons. With precise location data from the SkyRanger, the repair team knew exactly where the issue was, what it was, and how to best fix it.
The OPG and NYPA team was impressed that the high-definition images from the SkyRanger offered the same insight as a visual inspection, even in the harsh, windy, and wet environment. With these images, the team pinpointed exactly where the issue was, while using additional aerial images from the SkyRanger to give the repair team input on how to navigate the water safely and complete the repair. What took a day or more now could be done in three hours.
The NYPA plans to use the high-resolution images and videos for future in-class training sessions, replacing some of the on-boat training that currently occurs. By doing so, they can expose their trainees to a broader range of situations, while removing the inherent risks involved.