The potential of drones in energy sector when it comes to making a variety of tasks faster, cheaper and safer is something numerous people have talked about and detailed, and it’s something that has everyone excited. Energy companies don’t want to talk about potential though, they want to talk about results. That’s one of the reasons the efforts of an energy company dedicated to transporting the electricity of the future to do just that is so important.

Austrian Power Grid (APG) operates the largest supra-regional high and extra-high voltage grid in Austria with the voltage levels 110, 220 and 380 kV. Their field of activities with the technology includes selective inspections, monitoring of vegetation and distances as well as 3D mapping. They’ve been able to prove where and how drone technology can make a difference in the energy sector.

These kinds of results and lessons learned are just some of the insights that Paul Zachoval, Operations Coordinator at APG, is set to explore in detail at the upcoming Commercial UAV Expo Europe session, The Use of Drones to Inspect and Monitor Austria’s Power Grid. We caught up with Paul to learn more about the kind of info he’s going to talk through for attendees, what he’s looking forward to at the event and plenty more.


Jeremiah Karpowicz: Can you tell us a little bit about how you’ve seen technology change the way you’re able to approach your work since you began at APG?

Paul Zachoval: A lot of things have changed in the grid-based energy sector in recent years. Let me give you an example.

When I started, 25 years ago, as a young project manager at APG, it was simple to switch off power lines for maintenance services or project works. Large thermal power plants and hydropower plants guaranteed a stable power supply in the electrical grid and it was easy to plan days or weeks ahead. Nowadays though, most of these stable heavy power sources get replaced by small renewable sources like wind turbines or photovoltaic systems, which are very volatile. Due to this strong expansion of renewable powers, the power flow is much tougher to determine. Manual interventions in the grid are required for an optimum power flow.

To sum up, on the one hand, it is nearly impossible to shut down power lines for maintenance services as an effect of volatile power sources, but on the other hand, we have to service our assets to ensure a high availability.


When did you first encounter UAV technology? Did you envision how it could be utilized, or is that something you had to test out and work through?

In 2011, my wife got me one of the small consumer drones for Christmas. It had a small camera in the front and was very easy to control, so the idea was born to use these UAVs for the inspection of components in our substations and power poles. I presented my idea to our CEO, who was very enthusiastic about it. He gave me the financial resources to buy an industrial UAV and after the first shots, everyone at APG immediately realized that we have to push this technology.


What are some of the specific ways you’ve been able to use UAV technology to make a difference?

The greatest advantage for us is that we can now take photos of the asset components and analyse them, while they fully operational. Another advantage is that we reduce the risk of accidents in fact that our service team don’t have to climb up the high power poles.


What advice would you have for utility professionals who are trying to figure out how they can or should be adopting drones?

The most important question is: “What will be my application for the UAV?”

As an example: Will you use drones for selective inspections of specific components, or will you want to use them for surveillance of a large area? Do you want to take just photos or is it necessary to measure something?

UAVs can be utilized for a great deal of things, but there is no product which can serve every application. Think about the application and then the market will show the best suitable solution for UAVs.


What are you hoping attendees of your Commercial UAV Expo Europe session will be able to take away from it? 

I want to show attendees what we’ve been able to do in the last 6 years, and what is now possible with UAVs. I want to encourage and motivate them to start working with UAV’s and take risks for their own best practicable solution.


What are you most looking forward to discussing with attendees at the event?

To share experiences and get impressions about how they are working with UAVs. Was it a difficult start? Which issues had to be tackled? I’m also open to finding new solutions or to connect with potential future partner projects. I’m open-minded to new ideas.


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