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Drones To Save The Environment: Drones For Good

Last updated on

July 6, 2020


    Drones To Save The Environment: Drones For Good

    There is a general feeling that in a post-coronavirus world (which we can only hope is not too far away), our focus will return to how we can mitigate and reverse the effects of climate change on the planet.  Restricted by government advice to stay within our homes and with international travel at its lowest for decades, coronavirus has shown us the impact of removing humanity from our streets, roads and skies. In Europe, satellites have detected nitrogen dioxide levels fading away over the continent. With commercial aviation travel usually contributing volumes of up to 20% of global carbon emissions, we have seen these emissions drop to unprecedented levels for the modern age.

    However, with our consciousness heightened to the potential threat of infection, our plastic consumption has dramatically increased – a scar that coronavirus will leave on our landfills for millennia to come. With this in mind, we have to look at every option for reducing our environmental impact.

    With the world beginning to re-open, scientists have made it clear that we need to continue with affirmative action to secure the future for the next generation. Drones are proving an invaluable resource in the research, development and management of many programmes in which to control the effects of climate change.

    In this article you will learn about;

    • Drones for reforestation
    • Drones for boiler inspections
    • Drones & climate change
    • Drones & renewable energy
    • Drones & coastal management

    If you like to speak to one of our experts about drones could help your business, contact us here.

    drones to save the environment

    Saplings Save Lives

    Experts say that the planting of trees and reforestation can be one of the single most important things we can do as a global community to mitigate the effects of climate change. While not a quick process, young saplings absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it as they grow; thus reducing the global heating levels overall.

    UAVs provide a solution for planting the saplings across vast expanses of land and at a quicker rate than if sown and planted by hand. In the UK, Dendra Systems (formally BioCarbon Engineering) reported that using drone technology for planting trees not only ensured drones could plant the trees in precise locations but could also save crucial time. The report claimed that by using UAVs, governments would be able to restore forests 150 times faster than if they used manual labour. When there is little time to waste (experts claim we have but ten years to change our ways or the effects of climate change will be entirely irreversible), such economies are imperative.

    Trees are not only essential for their role in the carbon cycle, but also for the physical protection they can provide for communities across the world. DJI drones, in collaboration with Dendra Systems and the UN Environment Council, assisted the people of Myanmar to plant mangrove trees throughout the country. Myanmar is very vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Extreme weather events, such as tsunamis and hurricanes that have increased in both frequency and severity over the last decade have only made life harder for many people. The mangrove trees that line the coast of this Southeast Asian country provide an essential line of defence to minimise the effects of such disasters on local communities. Without drones, the rate of reforestation would not be quick enough to make a difference to the people of Myanmar. See the results of the project here.

    At Boiling Point

    We have all heard of the importance of reducing our carbon emissions; whether that is by rethinking the way that we travel, buying locally or eating less meat – the advice is easy to find. Drones are helping us in this field too, and in places, we may have never expected.

    The consensus in the eco-commerce community is that it is small changes that will have the most significant difference. One such way we can make a substantial change is in the way we service our boilers.

    Perhaps that was a surprise? Well, it seems not only are boilers a drain on the purse strings, but they are also a strain on the environment when they begin to fault.

    A study conducted by Boiler Room Consulting in collaboration with Flyability’s collision-tolerant drones found that using UAVs for inspections can have a notable impact in limiting the amount of CO2 released from commercial and residential boilers.

    ‘BRC found that an increase in the frequency of boiler inspections, which was supported by Flyability drones, could potentially reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 649 metric tons a year.’

    Flyability’s drones are particularly useful for boiler inspection where the space within the unit does not lend itself to having flying objects within. Moreover, a boiler can be a minefield of potential entanglements for a UAV’s blades. They must also be incredibly stable while in flight to take high-quality images so that the engineers may adequately perceive any issues. Furthermore, designed by Flyability drones with these hurdles in mind, these are the perfect device for the job.

    When we look at large capacity boilers in commercial properties, annual inspections can be incredibly costly, requiring scaffolding to ensure engineers can adequately assess the boiler visually. Using UAVs dramatically reduces the expenses surrounding these inspections and creates a safer working environment for the engineers.

    Nevertheless, how does that reduce carbon emissions enough to make a difference? By increasing the frequency of inspections, faults can be found sooner and rectified. Such defects often only show themselves in minor operational flaws and so may never be detected without an inspection. However, while small, these defects can cause extensive leaks of CO2 into the atmosphere. This study has shown how the utilisation of UAVs can reduce costs and help save the planet – we call that a win, win.

    More details of the study are available to read in full here

    Data, Data, Data

    We have seen across multiple industries that drones are proving essential in data collection. Drones are often able to show us what we would not be able to attain by hand or human eye.

    This need for data collection is as genuine in the field of climate science. The collated data keeps scientists in tune with changes in the environment as well as predicting future trends. The potential of UAVs lies in their versatility for each project. For example; once fitted with a range of sensors, UAVs replace previous methods such as helicopters and satellites for data collection – both of which come with heftier price tags. Not only does using UAVs save money (all important when working to a scientific project’s budget), but they also provide safer and quicker alternatives for those involved in the plans.

    Researchers at Cornell University have been using UAVs to research surface reflectivity of sections of the earth’s surface to understand our energy utilisation.

    Charlotte Levy, a doctoral candidate, spoke on the subject in 2017: “When making predictions about climate change, scientists must understand how much energy the earth is absorbing and retaining.”

    When the earth’s surface reflects solar energy rather than absorbing it, the results are significant cooling effects on the earth’s atmosphere, which signals how much heat energy we can utilise. Drones have increased the scope of this research, and our ability to understand further how to mitigate the events of climate change.

    Before the use of drones, satellites were the only way to collate data for surface reflection information. The satellites were in low numbers and only pointed over specific locations within the planet’s orbit:

    “The drones allow for measurements to be taken wherever they are needed,” Levy said, “We can send one to hover over above a forest and then have it fly across the road where the same forest was thinned five years earlier, and we can measure precisely what the difference is.”

    Sun, Wind & UAVs

    In 2019, the UK generated 36.9% of its electrical energy from renewable sources, with over half coming from offshore and onshore wind farms.

    During the Covid-19 outbreak, we have seen the UK running the National Grid entirely free of coal supply for two months. Not in the 230 years since the beginning of the industrial revolution, has more than a few days passed without the UK burning a single lump of coal.

    Placed over vast spaces, these large scale wind and solar farms possess a level of danger in their maintenance for the engineers that inspect them. By using UAVs to provide visual data for inspections on wind turbines, the detection rate for defects is swifter as an individual does not have to climb to the top of the turbine to make a visual check.

    Solar farms span vast acreage and finding a fault in a panel can be a lengthy process that wastes time, money and energy output. Generally, a faulty solar panel will release an excess in heat – this is quick to detect with a drone fitted with thermal imaging technology, ensuring that repairs can are safe and swift.

    Coast Watch

    There are many symptoms of climate change, such as extreme weather conditions which can then cause coastal erosion. We have to manage such impacts we may never be able to reverse the devastating effects.

    According to a British Geological Survey, there are currently, 11,300 residential properties, 9,000 commercial properties and 5,000 hectares of agricultural land, all in high-risk categories of destruction or damage from coastal erosion. With increasing wind and harsher, rising sea levels, these statistics are climbing each year.

    Drones are used in multiple guises to manage coastal erosion, such as drones for inspection. Firstly, emergency services and local councils are using drones as a first response system to inspect an area after a storm. This initial survey allows for dangerous areas to be evaluated and detected quickly for public safety.

    Pre and post-storm surveys are also essential in seeing the effects of weather systems on our coastline. By having quantifiable data to highlight the erosion, predictions are possible for future outcomes and even the rate of corrosion over time. These predictions can save lives as well as properties and agricultural land as we have the information at hand to be able to make marked changes to our landscape.

    Drones For Good

    We have spoken often of the good that drones do for our society, from providing invaluable assistance to the agriculture industry to helping the emergency services. Nevertheless, perhaps, it is the role that drones are playing to aid the scientific and commercial communities in mitigating, managing, predicting and, hopefully, reversing the effects of climate change that is of the most importance.

    Climate change is something that will affect all of us, and if the recent pandemic has taught us nothing else, hopefully, it will have shown the impact that we have upon the planet as a global community. We think this is only the beginning or, the tip of the iceberg (!) for how drones can help our planet, and we cannot wait to see what else happens in the next few years to help change our world for the better.

    If you have been inspired to use drones to save the environment and would like to speak to one of our experts, you can contact us here.


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