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Drones, connected marker posts, LiDAR: GRTgaz rethinks network monitoring

To monitor its network more closely and to improve safety for local residents and employees, GRTgaz is testing tomorrow's technology today.

Drones, connected marker posts and LiDAR remote-sensing technology are just some of the innovations that have been adopted to make our infrastructure increasingly reliable.

Drones to fly over strategic areas

Launched in 2012, the GRTgaz drone project promotes the aerial surveillance of network infrastructure. The agility of this small aircraft facilitates the inspection of strategic sites that are difficult to access. Our operational teams work on two types of facility that are unique from an aerial perspective: the gas network's compressor stations and pipeline bridges.

  • Compressor stations
    In order to speed up the flow of gas, slowed by friction, as it is transported over great distances, there are compressor stations located throughout the network. They are a key link in the natural gas transmission chain. It is essential that they remain safe. GRTgaz is testing the use of drones to inspect the condition of lightning-protection systems installed on the roof of the stations. By flying over the stations, maintenance is improved as inspections may be conducted more easily, at a lower cost and more often.
  • Pipeline bridges
    We are currently using drones drones to monitor the condition of gas pipeline bridges that are either long (more than 250 m) or difficult to access. It is a form of technology that is perfectly suited to the inspection of these raised, open-air pipelines that are hard to inspect using conventional methods (primarily, rappelling). The drones, which are highly manoeuvrable, guarantee the safety of our technicians and represent a monitoring solution that is both economical and reliable.

Key figures
In cooperation with our three partners, Air Marine, Redbird and Technivue, we have already made 52 flights since 2012 and flown over more than 958 km of pipeline.

Portrait of Frédéric Guillou, Chef de projet Innovation GRTgaz - crédit photo : Luc Maréchaux

"Despite continuing regulatory and technical factors that restrict the rapid and large-scale introduction of drone-based network monitoring, we currently plan to use drones for long-distance monitoring. This solution will benefit the whole of our gas network in terms of its maintenance and will be able to guarantee a high level of safety for GRTgaz employees and local residents"
Frédéric Guillou, Innovation Project Manager at GRTgaz

Drone-based monitoring explained by Frédéric Guillou (video)

Connected marker posts guarantee the network's safety

Spread over the network's 32,000km surface area, GRTgaz marker posts and beacons indicate the presence of gas pipelines in order to prevent damage to the network by nearby construction work. This essential role comes to naught when the yellow marker posts are damaged or knocked over by the elements or man. In order to protect the condition of  the network  and keep it safe by intervening as quickly as possible in the field, GRTgaz and the start-up, Eridanis, have developed a prototype connected marker post.

This innovative device makes use of:

  • sensors;
  • a radio transmitter;
  • the wireless communication network,  SIGFOX;
  • a web-based data-processing platform.

In the event of a fault...

When a fault is detected on the marker post thanks to one of its many  sensors (verticality, GPS, temperature, etc.), it sends a signal to the operators, who then get ready to take action. This remote, real-time monitoring system represents another step forward in our efforts to improve the safety of people and property close to the network.

Video: Eridanis connected marker post

Maintaining easement corridors with LiDAR

An easement corner, namely, a plot of land under which a natural gas pipeline is situated, has a regulatory width that varies (from five to 20 metres) in accordance with the diameter of the pipeline and stretches along the entire length of the pipeline. To be able to carry out work on the network at any time, these corridors must be clear and easy to access.

By flying over them with a laser-guided remote-sensing or LiDAR (Light detection and ranging) aircraft, we can identify those areas that require maintenance (clearance of undergrowth, etc.). This technology therefore makes the easement corridors more reliable by streamlining their maintenance and preventing hazardous situations.

LiDAR: tests and outlook
In the case of the sectors tested, this solution has borne fruit: geolocated LiDAR data let us exhaustively, immediately and harmoniously identify situations that did not comply with GRTgaz risk criteria (visibility of the beacon, nearby trees, plant cover, etc.).

In light of these promising results, GRTgaz is studying the use of LiDAR remote sensing technologyfor other areas of work, particularly:

  • the monitoring of the environment to carry out hazard studies;
  • the checking of the width of watercourses and the condition of banks.

In 2016, GRTgaz also plans to boost the reliability of easement corridors thanks to the use - over short distances - of a LiDAR system installed on a drone.