31. Drones


Originally developed for military applications, drones have found their way into many fields due to the improved levels of safety and efficiency they bring. These robotic unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operate without a pilot on board and with different levels of autonomy. Initially focused on image capture, their uses are set to expand thanks to the expected progress in drone systems (ability to fly longer distances), Artificial Intelligence (image processing, guidance, etc.), sensors (miniaturisation of lidar, etc.), telecommunication (5G, etc.), and technical action capabilities (manipulator arms, etc.). The development of the use of drones is highly dependent on regulations, which lay down strict rules that vary considerably depending on whether or not the operator is flying within sight of the UAV.


The European Drone Strategy 2.0 sets out a vision for the further development of the European drone market. The new Strategy builds on the EU’s safety framework for operating and setting the technical requirements of drones and lays down how Europe can pursue large-scale commercial drone operations while offering new opportunities in the sector. The Strategy envisions the following drone services becoming part of European life by 2030: emergency services, mapping, imaging, inspection and surveillance within the applicable legal frameworks by civil drones, as well as the urgent delivery of small consignments, such as biological samples or medicines.

Challenges and opportunities for DSOs


  • Lightweight drones open up the prospect of improved pruning monitoring, post-storm and post-failure diagnostics, and automated infrastructure monitoring and diagnostics.
  • Drones offer (important) benefits to utility field operations, and can acquire larger volumes of data more reliably and rapidly in inaccessible or hazardous locations than on-site humans.
  • Drones can increase the quality and response time in infrastructure monitoring while minimising material and human resources and monitoring costs.


  • The usage of drones for vegetation and infrastructure monitoring still poses regulatory challenges.
  • Drones have limited power and useful flight time.

EDSO Considerations

  • DSOs must follow technological and regulatory developments relating to drones, making the most of these advances to improve their operational performance.
  • DSOs must understand the evolving requirements for data aggregation, analysis and integration with other IT systems and provide the necessary tools in line with security and governance guidelines.
  • DSOs should work together to promote regulatory changes throughout the European Union that would facilitate the use of drones.
  • DSOs should present recommendations regarding insourcing or outsourcing drone usage (e.g. Drones as a standard tool vs. drones as a service based on service-level agreements).

Potential use cases

  • Aerial network inspection, both visual and thermal.
  • Remote asset monitoring, including in areas with limited access.
  • Vegetation management.
  • Unmanned tree pruning using drones.
  • Digital network mapping and Geographic Information System (GIS) applications.
  • Supervision of maintenance and development works.
  • Emergency response and damage assessment.
  • Insulator cleaning by drones in inaccessible areas.

Ongoing projects

  • ALTITUDE project, automatic aerial network inspection using drones and machine learning. In ALTITUDE, HEDNO serves as the pilot user. Other project partners are Renel (project promoter), Innora and SciDrones (more info).
  • E-REDES GridDrone project. E-REDES decided to carry out a pilot project with an Estonian company, Hepta Airborne, where it inspected 1000 km of HV and MV network in the districts of Viseu and Coimbra (PT). The results of this project were evaluated internally, with the help of members of the Vegetation Management Department (DGV) of E-REDES and EDP Labelec, with the service currently provided always at quality standards (more info).
  • E-REDES E-Drone project, carrying out inspections of network assets using commercial drones. For this project, it was necessary to complete the process of acquiring the drones, taking out civil liability insurance, training the pilots, obtaining the respective licences, registering E-REDES as a drone operator with the National Civil Aviation Authority (ANAC) and the National Aeronautical Authority (AAN) and, finally, appointing an operational manager. The use of this technology allowed for carrying out a detailed inspection of the network and visualising all the asset components. At the forefront of innovation, E-REDES uses and adapts innovative solutions for the inspection of its technical assets (more info).
  • UFD, through its GALA (Advanced Overhead Lines Management) and DALI (Drone & AI Line Inspection) projects, carries out vegetation management and oversees inspections, preventive maintenance, and predictive maintenance based on risk management using drones Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS). This is achieved through the construction of the digital twin of its entire high and medium voltage network, as well as the utilisation of various recognition algorithms employing AI (more info).
  • ČEZ Distribuce conducts aerial LiDAR inspections of lines and substations and scans for pruning planning. Currently, this is partially used as a business-as-usual solution, generating cost savings thanks to higher precision on what vegetation needs to be cut.

Last update: 17 May 2024