The autonomous future
When considering the benefits of drones for the energy sector, they must be viewed in conjunction with
a broad spectrum of emerging and disruptive technologies, Thierry Mortier of EY tells Tildy Bayar
Last year, global consultancy EY launched a worldwide network of innovation centres, dubbed EY wavespace, aimed at helping
their clients to face the challenges and
opportunities involved with continuous change,
digitalization and disruption.
In addition to the firm’s 15 existing locations,
eight new centres on four continents are
planned to feature a shared methodology and
platform for testing ideas related to disruptive
technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI),
robotics process automation, blockchain, data
analytics, digital, customer experience and
cybersecurity. One such technology that EY
has already focused on is the use of drones,
with projects lab-tested across industries
including energy in conjunction with other
disruptive technologies such as blockchain.
We spoke with Thierry Mortier, EY Global Power
& Utilities Innovation Leader, about what drones
can offer the energy sector and how this offering
is expected to evolve.
Q: What is the current state of drone use in the
A: First of all, we can say that drones are a part
of one aspect of the energy industry. Under the
heading of robotics, which is a broad category,
there are six other main categories including
AI, automation and Io T. We see drones as a part
of a very broad spectrum of emerging
You also need to see drones in connection with
those technologies. Part of the use case or
business case is related to the fact that you can
have equivalents to helicopters or planes, but
cheaper and faster without the pilot – that is
one part. This delivers some benefit as you don’t
need to have helicopter hours, fuel, pilots paid
and so on.
A large part of the effect we see comes from
the fact that drones can do more flights or
inspections, and as such can create more data,
and then through a number of these
technologies such as AI, with automated
processing of data, this can result in much higher
efficiency than what we have seen before.
You need to not just look at the equipment as
such, but at what you can do with it. The
technology is there currently to do something
with that data in a much more automated way.
I’ve seen quite a lot of startups in this area,
smaller companies that now have specific
service offerings in that area. A lot of them, or a
number of them, are actually focusing on what’s
called the 80 per cent of non-critical assets.
Most non-critical assets in the past were
monitored by helicopter flights and thermal
imaging. [The industry is] now primarily focusing
on trying to get efficiency in terms of
maintenance costs and asset management
solutions in this 80 per cent of non-critical assets.
One startup in particular is specializing exactly
in those drone solutions combined with data
solutions. They’re able to, for example, perform
vegetation management in more tropical areas
in a very efficient way through a combination
of flights, data generation and imaging, and
this results in an alert system that allows people
to take action just in those areas where there is
vegetation growth around the lines.
We’re at the stage where the solutions are there,
the startups are there, and gradually companies
are adopting those solutions. However, what we
see on the utility side is that new technologies
like drones are not really fully adopted yet as
an asset class to maintain, but also as a means
to do a lot of asset management at present.
Barriers for big corporates are still there, so they’re
more in the stage of experimenting. A branch
of one utility company now has a solution in