The use of drone technology is rapidly growing, from amateur enthusiasts to trained and qualified pilots in steel caps inspecting industrial sites.

In particular, they are an outstanding way of effectively inspecting potentially dangerous areas, while reducing risks to our people – and safety is a major driving factor for AGL.

Col Perso, Hydro Works Team Supervisor, recently led a drone inspection of the McKay Creek Power Station penstock gravel trap.

‘The penstock is a large pipeline running beneath Mount McKay carrying water from Rocky and Pretty Valley reservoirs into McKay Creek Power Station,’ Col said.

Underwater drones (ROVs) have become invaluable for inspecting AGL Hydro’s network of pipes.

‘As the tunnels are unlined, rock and gravel tend to accumulate in pits and – if left unchecked – has the potential to fill and carry debris into the units at McKay and Bogong Power Station.

‘The debris heading into the units can damage things such as guideline vane surfaces, turbine runners, turbine buckets, needles, linkages, and filters,’ Col added.

Previously, the hydro team used an external company to inspect the pit levels on site using human divers or, more recently, a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), which was costly and time-consuming. After seeing them work with the underwater ROV, the hydro team decided to invest in their own underwater drone for inspections.

Renewables Service Delivery Lead Ken Birt has been flying drones for a few years and says that it is great to see the company embracing drone technology and the multiple benefits they bring to our generation portfolio.

‘The drone technology is helping us work safer and more efficiently by eliminating risk to our people when performing critical control jobs like working at heights or in confined spaces like our underwater tunnels,’ Ken said.

Ken Birt taking drones out for a test.

‘We can carry out the inspections with less disruption to our operations, more frequently and more cost-effectively due to the number of hydro employees who have become qualified pilots through training and supervision provided by the previous vendor.

‘This was our first job with the ROV and it was a great opportunity for our hydro maintenance employees to gain skillset in a technology that is rapidly growing,’ he added.

The ROV will be used across multiple assets to perform an array of tasks; the next job being to perform an inspection of the condition of underwater concrete at the Eildon Regulating Dam spillway stilling basin.