You see something flying over your wind farm. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a drone. This prospect could fill you with terror or excitement. That depends on your prejudices.
If you associate the word ‘drone’ with the unmanned aerial vehicles used in war then you would be understandably alarmed to see one flying over your wind farm. If, on the other hand, you think a ‘drone’is most likely being used by a wind enthusiast to take pretty photos then you may welcome the aerial interloper. It is all about context.
Governments have been waking up to the risks posed by drones.
For instance, last month Dubai introduced new aviation laws with restrictions on them, in order to protect its airspace. Meanwhile, Japan is looking at changes after a man last month used one to drop radioactive sand on the house of Japan’s deputy prime minister. And the US is looking at the feasibility of Amazon’s plansto use them to deliver products to customers.
These governments have been looking seriously at drones. Now wind farm owners should look start seriously at this technology too. In real terms, that means investigating exactly how they can help manage wind farms more effectively, especially in the operations and maintenance phase.
It’s also of course, about recognising any potential threats. But, in simple terms, drones are neither good nor bad. They are simply another technology that needs to be managed.
This is why UK firm Aveillant last week launched a holographic radar that it said is capable of detecting and tracking drones. We have seen people flying drones over sensitive sites, and so it is important for wind farm owners to understand the risks.
Now, the prospect of unidentified drones flying over wind farms is worrying, and it therefore makes sense for owners to be fully aware of all aviation traffic, including drones.
After all, if drones fly too low then they could hit turbines and damage them; or get knocked out of the sky and harm people at ground level. There’s also a chance of competitors using drones to monitor their rivals' activities, although that risk is minimal, at best.
Either way, the wind sector should not be too hostile to drones because of the potential benefits they could bring.
For instance, wind companies can use drones to see if there is damage to turbine blades before sending people to assess them in person; or to assess potential development sites. These are significant benefits that can help companies to run their operations more effectively, and maximise their returns.
In fact, French construction firm Bouygues last year launched drone inspections for wind farms. And since the specific drone technology is not cost prohibitive, in theory at least, this type of surveillance is potentially something that owners could do themselves.
And it’s that element that sits right at the heart of the issue. Yes, drones could pose risks to wind farms every so often, but they could also bring benefits day in day out, too.
Time then, to develop a better understanding of a technology that has the potential to go mainstream. There is a raft of willing contractors out there already setting up shop – and generating increasingly attractive revenue streams – and we do not expect it to be too long before a developer snaps up one of these outfits.
And that, crucially, will provide ultimate proof that the technology has a viable long-term future.
Four Republican congressmen have called for a halt to US offshore wind projects because of unsubstantiated claims blaming the industry for whale deaths. But this obvious misinformation can still be a threat for the growth of the industry.