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Coal Power Plant Inspections: Observing Water Flow & Safety with ROVs

Cody Warner   |   April 4, 2017

Safety is of the utmost importance when it comes to coal power plant inspections; utilizing Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), or underwater drones.

For anyone who has found their way to a coal power plant, there is one very common theme throughout the place; safety is the key. It is reiterated with protocols, procedures, and plenty of signage. Coal power plant inspections are no different, as they are regularly conducted throughout the facility, in some places on a daily basis.

When you think of coal, you may think of the lumps of rock you receive when you don't make the "nice list" at Christmas time; you may think of the Industrial Revolution, you may think of air pollutants. What you are likely not thinking about is water, which is actually a key player in the process.

Water is converted to high-pressure steam, which turns the turbines that generate electricity. Water is also used to cool down the steam, to clean the coal, and process the fuel itself through its burning process. Coal power plants are usually placed near a steady water source such as a river, the water is brought in through intake structures and often stored in large "cooling towers" which are very similar structures to potable water tanks.

Coal Power Plant Inspections

These tanks and intake structures require internal inspections to review the overall integrity of the system and to ensure there are no buildups of debris that could cause a blockage. These inspections are generally conducted by divers or by draining the tanks. With the theme of safety in mind, this is counter-intuitive. These are often confined spaces that are very dangerous for any humans navigate through; the only reason for anyone to enter the structure is when it requires maintenance or repairs.

The thought of using robotics instead of humans to inspect is catching on. Aerial drones are being used to inspect the smoke stacks, the area that emits the excess steam from the top of the plant. Comparatively confined a space to the power plant's water tanks, this area has proven to be hazardous for an individual to physically survey.

ROV Conducting Inspections

coal-power-plant-inspections-rovRemotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), commonly known as underwater drones, are widely used survey submerged infrastructure around the world including coal power plant inspections. Allowing power plant operations to remain online while offering the safest means possible to inspect them. Power plants have also gone as far as investing in aerial and underwater drones of their own to conduct routine inspections. Only when areas of interest are identified do they need to hire outside contractors to the site.

The ability to have regular intervals of inspections enables the operators to take time lapses of the structures, monitoring small defects over time and prioritizing how soon repairs need to be conducted. This reduces cost and ensures no repair is ever put off for too long due to avoiding the high cost of divers.

The Ideal Submerged Structure Inspecting Remotely Operated Vehicle

Deep Trekker has made a name for itself by creating easy to use and affordable ROVs for underwater inspections. With its portable design, the entire unit fits comfortably in one carrying case which can be transported to any location within the plant and deployed within seconds.

Equipped with a built-in HD camera, the underwater drone has the ability to capture and record a live video feed to the handheld controller. Plant operators are able to keep a record of their findings and compare them to later inspections.

Its robust outer casing is manufactured on a unique pitching system allowing the ROV to maneuver within the confined spaces in the coal power plant.

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