Aerial Intelligence Team Leader for EDF Energy
Hinkley Point C, in Somerset, will be Britain’s first new nuclear power station in twenty years and is set to provide enough low carbon electricity to power five million homes. Preparatory works, such as the removal of vegetation and installation of fencing, are currently underway across the 150 hectares of the construction site.
Above the site a discreet bird-like object relentlessly follows a predetermined flight pattern. Under the watch of Rodolphe Jobard, a member of the EDF Energy Construction Team and a qualified Pilot, EDF Energy has embraced UAV photogrammetric mapping using an UAV to map the site. The 2D and 3D maps generated by the aircraft are updated weekly, and have been found to have a variety of uses. Introducing such an innovation in the nuclear industry required a robust safety case and approval from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Any aspiring UAV operator has first to decide whether to use a helicopter or an aeroplane. For Hinkley Point the decision was easy. Given the distance to be flown, with the flight pattern, approaching 100 km, the endurance of an aeroplane is required. The Gatewing X100 was identified as the preferred system following a thorough bidding process which took into account a number of criteria. Tolerance to wind was an important factor given weather conditions on the Somerset coast.
It is necessary to keep an eye on the Met Office forecast. Calm and sunny days can be few and far between, but so far, there has never been a week without at least one good weather window. The system did once get caught in a shower but the flight was unaffected. Having the system stored on site is an advantage, because it can be hand carried to its take off location, a field located in the centre of the site, with relative ease.
For the Hinkley Point C project the system is primarily used as a surveying tool. The Engineering Team started to use the orthomosaics, first to provide a background or existing drawings, and then for creating plans for elements that are not directly involved in safety procedures for the plant. New uses for the data then emerged. Engineers have used the technology to help monitor water levels; facilities managers have used the images to help relocate equipment and security staff have used UAV information to help with plans for possible events. New applications are being found all the time. All users have appreciated the flexibility and the constant evolution of the data. Additionally, remote measurement means less exposure to risk for staff on the ground. The 3D maps offer fantastic realism, thanks to millions of reference points with texture added using high definition images. Compared with photogrammetry by full size aircrafts, UAV mapping can be done more frequently, at reduced cost and minimal emission of CO2. Given its multiple advantages, UAV mapping stands to play an important role in surveying, complementing traditional ground surveys and photogrammetric imagery taken by full size aircraft.