Improving wind energy safety with automated industrial drones

There’s been understandable excitement about the growth of the wind energy industry. Wind is, of course, plentiful and renewable, clean and green, a power source of the future that provides an excellent alternative to fossil fuels.

This isn’t to say that wind energy is without its own issues. Compared to combustibles like oil and gas, wind energy is widely viewed as a safer fuel source, but according to the statistics, wind energy has been a growing source of fatal and non-fatal accidents to workers and civilians alike. If ever there were an industry in need of automated industrial drone surveillance and safety inspections, it’s wind energy.

Howling statistics

According to the Caithness Wind Information Forum (CWIF), close trackers of accidents and other incidents relating to wind energy, wind energy accidents have been rising steadily and scarily. This makes sense, as wind energy is becoming more common and more and more turbines are being built.

From 1999 to 2003 the industry averaged 44 accidents per year. By 2014 to 2018, that number had jumped to an average of 169 accidents per year. These are the numbers culled from limited official information releases as well as press reports. There’s a good chance the number of accidents in the wind energy industry is even higher.

From 2011 to 2018 there were 1,358 documented wind energy accidents and 62 documented fatalities involving wind industry workers or members of the public. These numbers are bad enough as is but consider that the wind energy industry is only going to keep growing and it’s likely the numbers of accidents and lives lost are going to keep growing as well.

Preventable disasters

A tragedy is a tragedy regardless of the circumstances surrounding it, however the detailed accountings of wind industry accidents maintained by CWIF point to a history of incidents that could potentially been prevented, making them all the more excruciating.

Many of the industry worker fatalities were caused by falls from wind turbines, electrocutions and fires. Other deaths were caused by ice throw from blades, equipment falling, drownings at offshore turbines and crane accidents during turbine construction. Members of the public also had deaths caused by falls resulting from illicit turbine climbing.

It’s hard not to wonder how many accidents could’ve been prevented and how many lives spared if inspections could have been performed much more regularly – without maintenance workers being sent high into the air.

The automated solution

What an automated industrial drone offers to the wind energy industry is the ability to quickly, easily and cost-efficiently complete both regular, scheduled inspections and on-demand inspections in response to potential issues or weather events.

Automated UAVs do not need a pilot to fly their missions, which means wind energy companies do not need to cover the significant expense of a drone pilot every time a blade might be malfunctioning, for example, or ice may have built up. These drones simply launch themselves and begin transmitting high-def real-time video that helps identify potential issues before they can become problems, and well before lives can be lost.

Automated UAVs can also provide a crucial set of eyes when human workers are completing risky tasks, perform surveillance checks to ensure members of the public are not attempting to climb turbines or interfere with other equipment, and can even fly emergency response missions to provide essential information to rescuers.

A promising future

The wind energy industry represents a greener future and an essential alternative to fossil fuels. However, as an expanding industry there have been significant struggles with safety that have led to unimaginable consequences. If the industry is going to be permitted to keep growing, these issues need to be addressed, accidents need to be reduced, and lives need to be saved. With automated industrial drones helping to provide improved safety, security and surveillance, the wind energy will be able to live up to its immense potential.