Case studies

Applications of robotics in the power industry    

Credit: Bert van Dijk/Getty images.

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Sarcos Robotics aims to augment rather than replace human labour 

According to Sarcos Robotics, there is great potential in robotics for the power sector, but it is still early days for this emerging technology. Its multi-purpose robotics offerings augment the capabilities of the existing power sector workforce while prioritising productivity and safety. Sarcos Robotics sees growing demand for robots in the power sector, which gained a new sense of urgency post-pandemic.  

Sarcos Robotics’ Guardian S multi-purpose robot is one example of the company augmenting human capability. The inspection and surveillance robot can access real-time insights while being operated remotely. The Guardian S can carry multiple sensor payloads, traverse challenging terrain, and enter confined spaces to inspect equipment like pipes and boilers. 

It is both untethered and remotely operated with built-in 4K and infrared cameras to gather 360-degree images and videos for the operator. These features provide plant managers with accurate data and help them make decisions and tackle dangerous situations, such as high-pressure steam leaks, fires, or other breakdowns. The Guardian S reduces the need for labour-intensive maintenance practices, meets regulatory requirements for regularly scheduled equipment inspection, and eliminates the need for workers to enter hazardous areas. 

Sarcos Robotics’ Sapien Robotic Arm is a further example of the company augmenting the capabilities of the current power workforce. The Sapien Robotic Arm speeds up the construction of solar farms and, in turn, assists with the renewable buildout needed to combat climate change. The installation of solar modules requires significant manual labour. 

Sarcos Robotics developed its Outdoor Autonomous Manipulation of Photovoltaic Panels (O-AMPP) program alongside the Solar Energy Technologies Office to replace time-consuming manual solar installation. The process streamlines the installation and clean-up of photovoltaic (PV) modules. 

The Sapien Robotic Arm is designed to support the transfer, manipulation, and placement of PV modules and works alongside on-site workers. A bonus is the improvement in worker safety as injuries from strenuous repetitive lifting and fatigue are reduced. 

EDF and ORCA Hub partner to launch unique remotely operated vehicle 

EDF has partnered with ORCA Hub to deploy a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) for underwater inspection of offshore wind farms. Due to the location of offshore wind farms, they can be costly and challenging to monitor. The ORCA Hub’s vision is for a completely autonomous offshore energy field, and the ROV is a step in the right direction. 

It has been deployed on a pilot project at EDF’s offshore wind farm in Blyth, UK, for autonomous visual inspection of the foundations of three offshore turbines. The ROV provided detailed visual inspections of the turbine foundations and cable, and this information was used to create 3D reconstruction models of parts of the underwater assets. These will be used to monitor the accumulation of microorganisms, plants, or algae on the turbine foundations that may disturb operations. 

Further testing is still needed to assess the full potential of the ROV in remote inspection. However, if bought into regular use, it will enable consistent inspection, reduce downtime of power assets, prioritise worker safety, and assist with the essential buildout of renewable energy infrastructure at pace. 

Other power companies have deployed similar technologies. For example, Endesa successfully tested an underwater ROV to remotely inspect and perform maintenance work on its thermal generation facilities. The power sector will continue to increase its use of autonomous inspection and maintenance robots in the coming years.

National Grid pilots Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot for inspection 

National Grid deployed Spot, an agile mobile robot from Boston Dynamics, to automate regular inspection activities and capture data at its Sandy Pond high-voltage direct current (HVDC) converter station in Massachusetts, US. Spot was introduced by National Grid into the thyristor hall at the station a couple of days before the facility’s shutdown period. 

The robot is fitted with a panoramic tilting optical camera that allows up to 30 times zoom on any asset. Operational equipment is also observed through an infrared camera to identify potential issues, such as hot spots (areas where the equipment is hotter than normal). Other companies that have piloted Spot include: CK Infrastructure, Duke Energy, Énergie NB Power, Eskom, NextEra Energy, OPG, Talen Energy, and TVA.

A similar inspection robot, ANYmal, was launched by ANYbotics. The company has been creating quadrupedal robots since 2009, and in May 2022, SSE deployed ANYmal at its Keadby 2 power station for testing. The ANYmal robot successfully navigated the complex power generation environment, collected valuable data, and enabled sensory information to be carried autonomously through its acoustical sensors, optical camera, and lidar and thermal imaging sensors. 

GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Thematic Intelligence uses proprietary data, research, and analysis to provide a forward-looking perspective on the key themes that will shape the future of the world’s largest industries and the organisations within them.