by Linda Bertelsen
Checking your pipes from the air - DBDH Podcast - Drone Systems and HOFOR
District heating networks are some rather expensive infrastructures and should last as long as possible. Managers of DH networks focus on how best to maintain and secure their networks. When the pipes are in the ground, the only factor one can control is nearly the operation and maintenance cost – it is tough to see the pipes again, or maybe not that hard if done from above.


Morten Jordt Duedahl
Moderator, DBDH
Bo Jensen Møller
Head of operation at HOFOR
Sune Yde Nielsen
COO, Drone Systems

In this podcast, I take the role of an air captain and fly high (and low) to understand how the Copenhagen DH company has benefitted from monitoring its network from above. And get to understand what drone surveying of DH networks is and why many companies use this technology. So please be ready for take-off – this is your captain speaking!

This time we visit Copenhagen and learn how they benefitted from drones to survey their pipes.

Meet the experts

In the interview, two specialists in surveying DH networks discuss how it is done. Our case from Copenhagen is shared by Bo Jensen Møller, Head of Operation at the Copenhagen DH company HOFOR. HOFOR provides heat to nearly 100% of all buildings in Copenhagen, having several thousand km of pipes. Some are old, some are new, and all must be carefully monitored. In short, the result is that HOFOR has benefited significantly by using drones equipped with thermal payloads as a part of their pipe maintenance program.

Sune Nielsen is the tech- and drone wizard, inventor, and COO (among many other things) of the Danish company Drone Systems. Drone Systems has developed the software that makes drone surveying relevant and beneficial to many DH companies eager to monitor their network with this technology and optimize their maintenance.

Why drones are important

In this podcast, we learn why drones are important. The sensors and software capture the information through thermal imaging, after which the software “calculates” the results, which is the cornerstone to success. Drones come in many sizes and forms. The ones used when surveying in Copenhagen are nearly 140 cm in diameter and weigh about 10 kg –this is professional equipment.

HOFOR was seeking new ways to survey their network and discovered that drone surveying might be the solution. And the drones deliver. Drone Systems combines all collected thermal images into a map, so the users are presented with the exact location of leaks and other problems on their grid.

Surveying pipes difficult to access

One benefit is the possibility of surveying pipes usually difficult to access. Bo says, “Many of the pipes hidden in gardens, between tall buildings, in backyards and areas difficult to access for the car- or hand thermography you can now easily access.

After the initial drone test flight, HOFOR made a few test repairs and found that the method was worth working with. And now, “we simply do more and more. We have divided the city into three areas, and the drones survey one area each year.”

Facts about HOFOR

  • 665.000 customers
  • 99 pct. of Copenhagen is connected to district heating
  • Denmarks largest utility company within the core areas: District heating, district cooling, town gas,
    drinking water, wastewater end renewable energy.
  • 1.400 km pipes with district heating
  • 1.500 double-line 18 – 700 mm small and big pipes.
  • Corrective and preventive maintenance
  • 1.400 employees in the company
  • Owned by the municipality of Copenhagen
  • Owner of Amagerværket – a biomass-fired power station

Facts about Drone Systems

The Danish innovative drone-tech pioneer Drone Systems is a leading expert in the thermal inspection of high-tech and high-quality district heating networks. Building on solid technical know-how, advanced drones, and radiometric orthophotography, Drone Systems can map out the conditions of an entire district heating network. Even networks located in challenging environments and impassable terrain.

Due to their specialized drone-based technology, this means that Drone Systems can deliver 100% thermal coverage and show the complete picture of a district heating network. On top of providing complete visibility of an entire network, the company localizes leaks and points of interest with an accuracy of less than one meter, even with minor leaks on return pipes. Drone Systems operates with local partners or drone operators.