How drones saved Kenyans billions in power penalties

Friday November 02 2018

Pylons from the 220KV Suswa substation in Narok County. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP


The use of drones helped complete the construction of delayed high voltage power line to carry electricity from a 310 megawatt (MW) wind power plant in Marsabit to Narok on schedule, saving Kenya billions of shillings in monthly penalties.

Power China was hired to complete the construction of the 428km power line within seven months, after a Spanish firm initially hired to build it went bankrupt.

The Chinese firm said the use of drones to mount 400-kilovolt power line on the pylons and use of 24-hour shifts of 1,000 employees allowed it to complete the project before September.

The use of aerial unmanned aircraft, the first in Kenya power construction project, helped coverage of vast distance faster in a region with poor roads and infested with animals.

“In order to speed up the progress, the project department worked for 24 hours and adopted unmanned aerial vehicle - drones - laying line construction for the first time,” said Yang Jia, the Loiyangalani-Suswa 400kV Transmission Line Project Manager of Power China.

“We applied modern technologies and worked day and night even in the animal-infested parts of Turkana and despite the heavy unending long rains.”


Mr Jia added that the technology shortened the construction period to a record seven months on the back of technology and efficiencies, saving the taxpayer billions in monthly fines.

The line is critical for the Lake Turkana Wind Power project, to carry electricity from Loiyangalani in the north to Suswa in Narok County.

Had the line delayed beyond September, power users would have been force to pay the owners of Turkana plant Sh1 billion monthly because wind farm was ready for launch last year but remained idle because of lack of transmission lines.

Typically, large power lines are strung using helicopters or workers climbing the towers. However, these methods can be quite dangerous and time consuming.

The unmanned drone pulls a lightweight rope. This initial lead line pulls a heavier metal cable, and finally the cable pulls the much heavier power lines.

Construction of the 428km high voltage power line started in November 2015 but was delayed by landowners’ compensation demands and the closure of a major contractor, Spain’s Grupo Isolux Corsan, due to financial difficulties.

A new contractor, NARI Group Corporation and Power China Guizhou Engineering Company, were contracted in January and completed works in August after starting in February.