ELECTRICITY engineers are using the latest drone technology to inspect more than 64,000km of overhead power lines across the south.

Whereas in the past Scottish and Southern Networks (SSEN) workers had to physically climb towers to assess the condition of lines and equipment, now they are taking to the skies remotely to get a bird's eye view of the network.

The £420,000 programme, stretching over the entire £8,130km Wessex infrastructure – which includes Bournemouth, Southampton, Dorset and Hampshire – will also speed up the inspection process, SSEN says.

SSEN maintenance and inspection manager Martin Bailey said: “SSEN’s towers, which support our overhead network, sit across all four regions of our central southern England distribution area and are positioned in various different land types and even air spaces.

"Prior to using the drones, we were required to climb the towers, bringing an element of risk to those involved and taking a great time to safely carry out the assessment.

"Most of our towers have walk in access so now only two people are required to operate the drone and this in turn results in minimal impact on the environment, and far less inconvenience for land owners and nearby residents."

Mr Bailey also says they have been able to cut down on teams travelling and "minimised footfall on sites of special scientific interest" where many power lines traverse.

SSEN engineers, who are responsible for maintaining and inspecting 1,524 towers across central southern England, are working with the company Cyberhawk, using drones and iHawk to inspect the lines.

Cyberhawk chief executive officer Chris Fleming said: “By using drones we have been able to capture inspection imagery in a systematic way whilst keeping people’s feet firmly on the ground – reducing the need for people to work at height and lessening any potential impact on the environment.

"We then evaluate the results in our secure cloud based asset management software, iHawk allowing SSEN to prioritise repairs efficiently with full visibility.

"SSEN has been quick to understand the benefits and is an early adopter of technology.

"It has been fantastic to help SSEN improve its workflows and we look forward to helping bring further technology to their networks."