Optus, partners fly drones using 5G to enhance electrical grid


Endeavour Energy, the electricity distribution network that supplies power to more than 2.6 million people in New South Wales (NSW), conducted its first on-site inspection of physical electricity infrastructure using a combination of 5G, cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), drone technology, and ultra-high definition (UHD) cameras.

The $648,000 project, which commenced in September 2021 and is being funded by the Australian Federal Government’s 5G Innovation Initiative aims to enable faster identification of damage to powerlines caused by storms, floods, bushfires and other natural disasters.

The 5G drones will enable Endeavour Energy to live-stream footage of damaged assets to its control centres in real-time, so crews and materials can be more efficiently deployed for repairs, with the aim of reducing the time homes and businesses are without power. The technology can also be deployed to help accelerate network remediation and improve worker safety by remotely alerting Endeavour Energy of faults or damaged equipment on the electricity network that could be difficult for humans to manually identify.

Federal Minster for Communication, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, Paul Fletcher joined teams from Endeavour Energy, Optus, Amazon Web Services (AWS), an Amazon.com company, and AWS partner Unleash live to watch first-hand as drones flew over the network at St Marys with footage streamed using 5G to Endeavour Energy’s training ground in Hoxton Park.

With the demonstration a success, Endeavour Energy will now deploy the solution across infrastructure assets in Penrith and Blacktown in NSW, to help the energy provider improve network safety and avoid disruptive unplanned power outages for homes and businesses.

The Hon Paul Fletcher MP, Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts said, “The 5G Innovation Initiative is designed to help businesses take advantage of innovative digital technologies, creating jobs and supporting Australia’s economic growth. Project Endeavour is a good illustration of these aims, but also of the broader potential of 5G applications to support the community. By employing drones to undertake remote inspections of critical infrastructure, the technology developed through Project Endeavour will assist in restoring power supplies as quickly as possible after interruption — including during natural disasters.”

Scott Ryan, Chief Asset and Operating Officer of Endeavour Energy said, “Finding a better way to deliver a safe, reliable, and sustainable electricity supply is in our DNA. We’re thrilled to work with Optus, AWS, and Unleash live, with the support of the Australian Government to expedite the use of 5G drone technology to make faster decisions and expedite critical maintenance to continue to keep the lights on for our customers. We are committed to being at the forefront of the current energy transformation by embracing digital innovation.”

Chris Mitchell, Managing Director of Optus Enterprise said, “Today’s successful test of Project Endeavour shows the value that 5G brings to enterprise businesses and critical infrastructure. The 5G’s ultra-low latency allows customers like Endeavour Energy to leverage a range of technologies like never before. Credit to the Australian Government and our partners in AWS and Unleash live in bringing this to life.”

Rianne van Veldhuizen, Managing Director at Amazon Web Services in Australia and New Zealand said, “We’re proud to work with Optus, Endeavour Energy, and Unleash live on this exciting project which is set to improve the safety and efficiency of NSW’s energy network and its workers. The energy industry’s commitment to ongoing digital transformation will help drive higher safety standards, better cost-savings, and an overall better experience for its employees and all Australians. By leveraging AWS’s analytics and storage capabilities, Unleash live can ingest, store, and process large volumes of visual data from Endeavour Energy’s electricity network in real-time to enable technicians to make faster decisions and expedite maintenance safely.”

Unleash live CEO and Co-founder, Hanno Blankenstein, said: “The Unleash live enterprise platform is being used today for many applications within the energy industry for improved energy production through faster and more cost effective fault detection across renewable energy generation and the connected grid. Endeavour Energy’s digital power line inspection benefits from automated drone operations and the application of condition monitoring A.I., improving safety and reducing the cost of maintaining such high value distributed assets. With Australia’s increasing reliance on renewable energy, the safe and reliable transmission of electricity across our power network will be critical. Through working together with Endeavour Energy, Optus and AWS, Australia will be leading the world when it comes to improving grid reliability and reducing the risks associated to wildfires, floods and other public hazards.”

On-site inspections are currently conducted by Endeavour Energy utilising a large fleet of vehicles, helicopters, and a team of technicians to physically identify and carry out remediation. It’s expected that the use of drones should save Endeavour Energy time inspecting their network footprint, which is made up of more than 60,000km of powerlines, 400,000 power poles and 32,000 substations across Sydney’s Greater West, the Blue Mountains, Southern Highlands, the Illawarra, and the South Coast of New South Wales. It should also help to reduce the number of vehicles and helicopters needed to physically identify and carry out remediation.