50Hertz and SPIE will use lasers and sensors to detect eventual faults in overhead power lines

Published on 26 November 2020

Berlin, 26 November 2020 – SPIE, the independent European market leader for multi-technical services in the areas of energy and communications, was commissioned by the transmission network operator 50Hertz to inspect its overhead power line network using multi-sensor inspection flights. To cement this partnership, 50Hertz has concluded a multi-year framework contract with SPIE.

Since July 2020, SPIE has scanned 1,465 kilometres of 50Hertz power lines by helicopter and gathered important data to improved maintenance and repair management and to record in detail the condition of the overhead power line network. The inspection makes it possible to more quickly assess any defects - for example, at bollards or conductors - or the distances between vegetation and power lines. Maintenance measures can therefore be instantly initiated. This, in turn, reduces the risk of line failures and helps to cut costs. The framework contract concluded between 50Hertz and SPIE will run for three years. It includes conducting flights and inspections of 50Hertz’s entire overhead power line network in Germany, which is around 5,000 kilometres in length.

For us, this process is more than simply a maintenance and servicing measure,” says Dr. Frank Golletz, the Chief Technical Officer of 50Hertz. “Multi-sensor flights enable us to identify problems with the lines much more easily than ever before and initiate a swift and efficient response. The aim is to utilise our lines to the maximum permissible capacity so that as much electricity from renewable sources as possible can flow through them to our end users. This project, which fits seamlessly into our ‘60 to 100 by 2032’ strategy for covering all the energy requirements in our grid area over the course of a year with renewables by 2032, will help us to achieve this.”

Markus Holzke, Managing Director of SPIE Deutschland & Zentraleuropa: “The combination flight, which includes all the necessary sensor technology and delivers flawless data, is an innovative and efficient method we developed for assessing the condition of overhead power lines in just a single flyover. We came up with this idea together with our customer 50Hertz, and it has since proved highly successful in practice. This is a fantastic example of how sophisticated analysis technology can help to optimise infrastructure and deploy it in an economically efficient manner.”

This project was motivated by the ever-increasing capacity utilisation of the existing power line network as part of the energy transition. This is why it is vital that it is always in perfect condition and that any problems or anomalies can be identified as quickly as possible. The methods used previously were extremely costly and time-consuming, and the new state-of-the-art inspection flights and on-board technology will help to speed up the processes.

The multi-sensor inspection flights are performed by a helicopter equipped with a range of sensor and camera systems. This includes laser scanning (LIDAR) capability as well as thermal and corona cameras. Corona cameras are special video cameras that are equipped with an additional UV-sensitive sensor and capable of detecting flaws invisible to the naked eye. A visual inspection of the lines is also performed during the flyover.

Thanks to this new procedure, around 78,000 photos of poles, fittings, connectors and damage have already been taken for assessing the condition of the overhead power lines operated by 50Hertz. Around 81 hours of video footage has also been recorded. The photo and video documentation has already helped to identify around 800 problems – whether visually or with the help of the infra-red or corona cameras – which now have to be assessed by specialists.