Senior officials in power ministry said Power Grid got approval from a committee comprising the ministries of defence, home affairs, power and allied departments. While Power Grid confirmed the development, it did not share details.
Government officials said among private companies Sterlite Grid has also applied for using drones to monitor its projects. Sterlite is the largest private operator of independent power transmission systems in the country.
Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which can be remotely controlled or can fly autonomously through software-controlled flight plans. While advanced flying robots used in defence can do various things, the drones to be used by power sector would be simpler ones with cameras to capture photos and record videos.
Power transmission companies, which usually have to build infrastructure in inaccessible areas, have applied for drones to reduce their maintenance cost. Sector experts said that with increasing thrust on delivering transmission projects on time, developers are increasingly deploying aerial technologies.
The power ministry has initiated an incentive scheme for transmission projects which get commissioned ahead of schedule. The government in July 2015 issued an order that transmission projects won under tariff-based competitive bidding (TBCB) and those awarded to Power Grid for system strengthening would start getting transmission charge from the date of commercial operations, even if it is ahead of the schedule.
Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd (PGCIL) is likely to use drones for its project in difficult terrains, said an executive. “The company is likely to experiment drones at two-three sites for now, mostly in hilly areas and in the north-east,” he said adding that drones are cheaper and more efficient than hiring helicopters for aerial monitoring.
A typical transmission tower is 100 meter-tall above the ground. Sector executives said drones would be used to capture work progress at construction sites and facilitate speedy response during emergency.
Many inaccessible areas are covered under the national grid. For instance, Sterlite Grid has tied up with US-based Burns & McDonnell to implement a transmission line between Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir with the help of heli-crane. It is in discussions with a US-based aviation company to use heli-crane for a transmission project in India for the first time.
Drones are catching up in other infrastructure sectors as well. National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) recently signed MoU with National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) under Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and North East Centre for Technology Application and Research (NECTAR), Department of Science and Technology for use of spatial technology for monitoring and managing highways across India. NECTAR uses UAVs for acquiring aerial images for infrastructure planning. This technology will be useful in monitoring construction progress, road asset management, feasibility and project report preparation, assessment, etc.
After being used extensively in movie shoots, drones caught the fancy of other sectors when a restaurant in the US used them for pizza delivery.
An e-commerce giant has sought the government’s permission to use them for product deliveries. Nowadays, drones are being used not only by private metrological agencies and forest and agricultural research bodies, but also in grand Indian weddings.