State Grid deploys hydrogen-powered drone to inspect grid in frigid Harbin

Areas that used to be inaccessible for the duration of winter due to chilly winds and heavy snowfall now fall within the range of hydrogen-powered drone.

State Grid (国家电网), China’s state-run power supplier, today deployed a hydrogen-powered drone to inspect electrical cables in the outskirts of Harbin, a frigid northeastern Chinese city, local media reported.

This is reportedly the first time a hydrogen-powered drone was utilized for safety inspection in a high-latitude locality with temperatures as low as minus 22 degrees Celsius.

The hexcopter drone, powered by fuel cell batteries, took off at the foot of a pylon that was part of a 220 kV electricity grid and flew along the electrical cables to screen safety risks.

It carried visual and infrared cameras that withstand extremely cold weather and covered the length of distance between 22 pylons, the report said.

Besides, it was subject to a series of tests on range, emergency response and long-haul WiFi signal extension.

With platinum as a catalyst, the built-in fuel cells and oxygen that was absorbed inside generated electricity to propel the drone.

Zero-carbon drone

Media reports said the aircraft not just achieves zero carbon emissions but also possesses merits such as long flight endurance and tolerance of ultra-low temperatures.

These features allow it to be applied in electrical inspection, alleviating the workload of frontline employees.

This proves particularly practical in the country’s north, where temperatures in winter easily drop way below zero, amid consequent risks like forest fire.

Image credit: Unsplash

Frigid climate has long been a huge impediment to drone-enabled autonomous inspection, grounding drones or shortening battery life.

Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang Province, governs a section of mountainous and hilly areas surrounded by some 1,000 km of power lines.

Areas that used to be inaccessible for the duration of winter due to chilly winds and heavy snowfall now fall within the range of hydrogen-powered drone.

Halving the workload

Technicians with the local branch of State Grid now are able to monitor the status of the grid from afar, issuing analysis or making decisions based on information sent by the drone.

In the past, it took four days for four maintenance crews to inspect more than 500 spots along the power lines.

By contrast, with the adoption of drones, the number of spots in need of checks have fallen by half, with the length of the job also reduced to two days, according to Yu Yang, a local employee with State Grid.

“With Harbin due to host the 2025 Asian Winter Games, and as we continue to deepen our knowledge and application of hydrogen-powered drones, this new technology will play a bigger role in grid inspection,” he noted.

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Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Trip.com Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at nitao0927@gmail.com.

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