September 8, 2017
By Steve ReinharzIt’s no secret that clean, renewable energy has become a prominent resource in today’s world and is continuing to grow and outpace fossil fuels. The year 2016 was the highest year ever for new renewable energy capacity additions, and, in March 2017, wind and solar energy passed 10 percent of the electricity produced in the United States for the first time ever. According to Utility Dive’s State of the Electric Utility (SEU) survey, utility professionals recognize this transition that’s taking place: More than 80 percent in North America anticipate renewable energy will increase moderately or significantly in their service areas over the next decade.These numbers show that it’s clear that renewable energy is critically important today and will continue to be in the future. As power plants and transmission and distribution (T&D) sites are part of our nation’s critical infrastructure, it is crucial to secure them from malicious attacks. The sniper attack on a Metcalf energy grid substation in 2013 rocked the nation’s view of utility security. This is where robotics can help.Robotic devices can be used to patrol energy plants as a cost-effective and efficient addition to human guards and security operation centers (SOCs). No matter the type of environment or terrain, security robots can monitor both the perimeter and in-depth areas of a power plant, allowing human guards to stay at a remote station. Robots that possess advanced intelligence and on-board panoramic surveillance can easily cover an ample amount of ground and report an event to alert security operations centers for backup or further investigation when needed. Sensors deployed on a robot can relay different types of information, preparing the security team for any kind of situation.Additionally, most break-ins at power plants occur when it’s dark. Solitary guarding a utility site throughout the graveyard hours is one of the most difficult jobs for humans to perform. Hours of darkness, no human contact, low wages and a customer expectation of constant alertness — difficult is an understatement. Security robots can be used to guard during this time to avoid requiring human guards to work under these circumstances.Aside from the inherent security concerns energy plants present, human security guards working in these types of conditions are also vulnerable to a variety of risks and dangerous atmospheres. For example, at a solar power plant, it’s possible to be exposed to electric shock and thermal burn hazards. At a wind power plant, bad weather can create a dangerous situation, and potential structural failures in the turbines present a threat. Allowing robots to augment human capabilities in these situations greatly reduces the risk for human injury while still providing protection and insight.As we become increasingly dependent on renewable energy resources, the need to defend against intrusion and prevent accidents in these power plants grows. Using robots as security guards is a viable option; their ability to canvas spacious regions and ensure the safety of human guards makes them invaluable and irreplaceable.Steve Reinharz is founder and president, Robotic Assistance Devices.