Energy companies for years have been using drones to monitor and collect aerial data from job sites. And this year, drone use among energy companies — which include businesses in the renewable energy (e.g. solar) companies, utilities and oil & gas industry — is skyrocketing.
That’s according to DroneDeploy, which reports that flights jumped 74% and users increased 13% in 2020’s Q2 vs. Q1.
DroneDeploy is a software platform that uses drones to capture images, create maps and 3D models, and analyze data across a range of industries including energy, as well as others, like as agriculture or construction.
DroneDeploy’s data on 2020 growth reflects a continuing growth trend over the past few years. The San Francisco-based drone company also reported that global energy flights increased 123% and users increased 86% between 2018 and 2019.
The energy sector has long been thought to be the largest industry within the commercial drone market.
Drones have been a valuable tool in conducting inspections of energy infrastructure. In the oil and gas industry, the need to inspect tanks, pipelines, well pads and flare stacks is common. Traditionally, that equipment is shut off so that workers can go in and perform an inspection, which means money is lost on halted production — amounting to potentially millions of dollars in lost revenue.
Drones typically make those inspections easier, faster and safer — reducing the need for humans to be on or around dangerous equipment. Couple that with recent improvements in drone technology such as the DJI Zenmuse XT thermal camera, and energy companies can unlock new capabilities like the ability to generate aerial thermal maps or radiometric thermal processing, which can allow site engineers to detect leaks or corrosion in real time.
And DroneDeploy isn’t the only company bullish on drone use among energy companies. AiRXOS, the drone arm of General Electric subsidiary GE Aviation, is working on a UTM product specific to drones used by energy companies. It’s called AiRXOS Enterprise Energy Solution, and it’s designed to help energy companies plan, schedule, operate and monitor all facets of their drone operations from a single platform. Meanwhile, aerial data analytics company DroneBase announced it raised $7.5 million in Series C funding this summer; most of the money will support a new DroneBase product called DroneBase Insights for Wind and Solar.