Veterans lead Australia-first project to test power lines with drones and sensors

A largely veteran-run start-up has secured funding to deploy drones to install sensors to test transmission lines, to allow them to transmit more renewable energy and prevent potentially fatal accidents.

Veteran Chris Cox and former engineer Cameron Van Der Berg have received more than $700,000 from the Commonwealth’s funding vehicle for renewable energy.

The pair developed Australia’s first method of testing power lines with drone-installed sensors and launched their company Infravision in 2018.

They will use the money from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to speed-up the deployment of their sensors across the transmission network in western Sydney, as part of a $1.8m Transgrid project.

Mr Cox spent five years in the Air Force and 10 years in the Army, before a chance run-in with Mr Van Der Berg at a Townsville spearfishing store led to a lifelong friendship and the idea for the business.

“I was overseas in the military at the time, and Cam basically gave me a call and said, I’m working on power lines, I really think we can use military-type drones to do construction tasks rather than just inspection tasks,” Mr Cox said.

“And that’s where the idea was born.”

Many of the other people who have joined their start-up, Infravision, since its inception in 2018 are veterans, including one pilot who worked overseas and in the most remote parts of Australia before he flew drones to check on power lines.

Camera IconChris Cox and Cameron Van Der Berg founded Infravision in 2020. Supplied Credit: Supplied

Already in use in parts of NSW, Queensland and the United States, the sensors Mr Cox and Mr Van Der Berg developed provide real-time information about environmental factors such as wind and high temperatures, which can affect capacity.

The data collected by the sensors can be used to see whether power lines have the capacity to transmit more renewable energy, as well as to reduce bushfire risk.

Mr Cox and Mr Van Der Berg also wanted to come up with a safer option after witnessing a number of fatal accidents caused when people were manually working on power lines from helicopters.

Mr Cox thanked ARENA for its support, saying the funding means the sensors can be rolled out more quickly and the existing grid in western Sydney made more efficient.

“It’s super exciting,” he said.

“I think what’s really important is the absolute battle of our generation to make sure that our young entrepreneurs are out there and they’re trying to solve these problems.

“If we don’t do it, no one else will.”

Camera IconAssistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy Jenny McAllister. NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage Credit: News Corp Australia

Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy Jenny McAllister said the technology would help the existing grid to absorb as much renewable energy as possible, minimising the need to build new transmission lines.

“This reduces system costs for the network, and puts downward pressure on prices for households and businesses,” said Senator McAllister, who will announce the ARENA funding for the Infravision project in Sydney on Friday.

The Australian Energy Market Operator has identified $12.7bn of new transmission projects which will be required over the next decade as the country and its energy grid transitions to renewables.

The federal government is expecting that 82 per cent of Australia’s electricity will be generated from renewables by 2030.

Labor took to the federal election a vow to upgrade Australia’s electricity grid to fix transmission and drive down power prices.

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