Oliver Kazunga Senior Business Reporter
ZESA Holdings has been losing over US$9 million annually due to vandalism and theft of its infrastructure, but says the recent adoption of drone technology would curb illegal practice.
Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution (ZETDC), the distribution arm of State power utility ZESA, acting managing director Engineer Howard Choga said this in an interview after the company unveiled its remotely piloted aircraft operator certification (ROC) from the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) in Harare on Tuesday.
Zesa was conferred with the ROC certification by CAAZ on May 16, 2022.
The certification entails that Zesa, using the drone technology, can now do environmental impact assessments in the delivery of power projects, technical loss identification, disaster management, asset monitoring and management, network maintenance, situational awareness and short range surveillance, among others.
The certification process of drones comprises five stages: the pre-application to CAAZ, formal application, documentation and evaluation, demonstration and inspection phase.
Eng Choga said the use of drone technology will also reduce by 75 percent the amount of money Zesa was spending in deploying resources to make assessments of damaged equipment.
“The value of money that we have been losing as a result of vandalism has been increasing over the years, but now we can almost say over US$9 million per year was being lost to vandalism.
“And replacement of this equipment has also not been coming in time to the extent that we have got people that are on extended outages because there is no supply of electricity.
“So, we further lose in terms of revenue that we could be getting through supplying electricity to the respective customers,” said Eng Choga.
“Through drone technology, we can cut off almost 75 percent of the amount that we would have to deploy for us to make assessments of damaged equipment by sending a drone.”
The drone technology will enable quicker fault finding and rectification resulting in relentless and consistent provision of electricity.
In a speech read on his behalf by Eng Choga during the event, Zesa executive chairman Dr Sydney Gata said drones are part of the power utility’s digital transformation strategy.
He said Zesa was leveraging on digital technologies such as drones, anti-intrusion detection systems, intelligent cclosed circuit television systems, geographical information systems, remote sensing, smart-metering, and artificial intelligence, among others in an attempt to offer superior services to its valued customers.
“In order to keep up with changing customer demands, ZESA is now embracing technology to deliver an unmatched customer experience.
“The remotely piloted aircraft operator certification (ROC) of Zesa by CAAZ supports the national priorities of infrastructure and utilities and creation of a digital economy under the National Development Strategy 1.
“The thrust of the NDS 1 is to facilitate achievement of an e-enabled economy where all sectors including the power industry embrace ICTs (information Communication Technologies) such as drones in order to improve operational efficiency in line with global trends.”
Dr Gata said the drones would support the National Development Strategy (NDS 1) objectives in site mapping, environmental impact assessments and management of construction of power projects.
Zimbabwe installed capacity is expected to increase from 2 317MW to 3 467MW by 2025 on account of various public and private sector presently under construction
Drones will also be used by the power utility in line profiling, substation siting, assert management and security through surveillance as the country expects to construct an additional 280km of distribution and transmission network by 2025.The use of drone technology within Zesa also supports the NDS 1 and initiatives aimed at attaining Vision 2030 targets.
“Part of President Mnangagwa’s thrust of improving people’s livelihoods is the adoption of the smart city concept by the Government.
“The concept of a smart city is based on the integration of ICT and its trends
“Drones are involved in a wide range of applications and functions in smart cities.”
Dr Gata noted that the power utility’s digital transformation strategy is not just about disruption or adoption of digital technology.
He said it was also about value, people, optimisations and capability to adopt when such is needed through an intelligent use of technologies and information.
“The organisation is learning more on intellectual assets for competitive advantage.
“Proper utilisation of intellectual assets within Zesa is changing the organisation from being an ordinary power generation, transmission and distribution business to being an industry leader in smart-grid solutions.
“Zesa’s intellectual assets acquired during the digital transformation process are improving the organisational corporate strategy.
“For example, Zesa’s drone pilots and IT personnel are now highly competent and are able to effectively utilise knowledge intellectual asserts to overcome the operational and the technical challenges within the organisation.”
So far, Zesa has a total of 22 CAAZ certified drone pilots.
In a speech read on his behalf by CAAZ director flight safety and standards Percy Hove, the authority’s director general, Dr Elijah Chingosho, said the Government had established local regulations to guide the industry which includes those who want to use the drones for private, commercial, corporate and non-profit operations.
“These regulations are called the civil aviation remotely piloted aircraft regulations and are published in statutory instrument 271 of 2018.
“They seek to achieve integration and acceptance of drones into the existing aviation systems while fostering an innovation and competitive drone industry,” he said.