Nottingham City Council has brought drone inspections to heat networks in what the council says is a UK-first, allowing its 90km network to be surveyed in one-and-a-half nights and cutting back on loss of water.
Leaks, insulation damage and faulty components can be identified and built into maintenance schedules, which the council said reduces costs and delivers cheaper energy to customers.
Nottingham City Council through its trading arm Enviroenergy has operated as a district heating company since its inception in 1972. In the UK there has been limited roll-out of district heating with Sheffield the only other city to create a similar sized network. Work is also under way in Manchester and Liverpool to deliver heat networks.
Up until now, operators of the UK’s district heating networks have had to rely on slow, partial or semi-reliable data available in order to map the condition of their district heating networks. In order to seek a more efficient solution, Nottingham City Council commissioned a thermal imaging aerial evaluation of its network via drone technology on behalf of Enviroenergy.
Nottingham City Council is part of the Innovation Gateway, which alongside the University of Birmingham, Tesco, Royal Bank of Scotland and Heathrow Airport are working to find sustainable solutions through innovations in energy, waste, water, productivity, and wellbeing. The council has an ambition to become the first carbon neutral city by 2028.
Through the Innovation Gateway partnership, the council sourced drone company, Hexcam, and brought in Drone Systems, a Danish company specialising in the flight and analysis of drone imagery of heat networks.
The council is still analysing the outputs of the study, but said the results so far have enabled it to fix six leaks which saves around 90 cubic metres of water per day, an annual value of more than £150,000.
According to Nottingham City Council, this value generated already vastly outweighs the costs of undertaking the survey and is ultimately aimed at keeping tariffs as low as possible.
Wayne Bexton, head of energy services, said: “I believe this demonstrates how cutting edge hardware and technology, with the right people, can drive down the cost of operating a district heating network. If heat networks are to expand in order to decarbonise the UK then initiatives like this that bring down the operating cost are critical. It’s never easy being the first to do something like this.”