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WG.B3.47 - Application of robotics in substations

Substation owners, asset managers, and engineers are always looking for ways to achieve the highest levels of personal safety and technical excellence, while minimizing the costs of substation construction, operations, and maintenance. In some cases these goals can be achieved by employing robots in substations and, as technology advances lower the cost of these devices, their use is becoming more prevalent. Owing to the rapid advancements in artificial intelligence and sensor technologies, many robot types have been developed, which could replace or assist people in substation operations and management. Some of these robots are already used in practice, yielding excellent outcomes. 

Working Group B3.47 has produced Technical Brochure 807 that provides a comprehensive overview of the existing applications of robotics in substations for construction, inspection, maintenance, and operation. It also presents the current and expected future trends in the development of new robot systems, pointing to the need for further research and standardization.  The Australian corresponding member of the working group was Yi Li.  ( D1 Australian Technical Panel convenor )

The use of robots within power systems is growing.  For substation construction, countries facing labour shortages and population ageing issues are focussed on measurement, design, construction and inspection.  Inspection robots have been used in outdoor and indoor environments as well as in valve halls and within transformers.  Their use in complex, high-risk maintenance activities such as water washing, dry ice blasting and brush cleaning is also developing.  Other uses with a strong safety benefit include autonomous breaker operations and fire fighting. 

The Technical Brochure provides many examples of the current use of robots in a number of countries.  One example of this is a transformer internal inspection robot, which can examine all areas of interest within the transformer without the need to drain the oil.  This improves personnel safety and dramatically reduces personnel requirements, project duration and cost compared to standard human inspection. 

A survey showed that more cost effective robots with adaptability to harsh environments, more functions, improved autonomy and intelligence and better stability are needed for substation operation and maintenance.  It was recognised that international standards will improve reliability, reduce duplication in development and lower costs. 

It is expected that the technologies will advance rapidly over the next 3 to 5 years, which should lead to safer and more reliable power system operation. 

The Technical Brochure is available via e-cigre free to members and € 290  to non-members.