A drone journalist far less corny than this reporter would never use the following line when talking about the growth of UAV tech in the utility sector: “So, watts up with drones and power companies! It’s shocking!”
But seriously, drones are sparking (groan) a lot of interest among utility companies and power authorities across the U.S. — case in point: New York.
New York State Electric and Gas Corporation (NYSEG) launched a drone inspection project in October to cover power transmission lines. Iberdola, NYSEG’s parent company, believes that using UAVs is cheaper and safer than deploying helicopters.
“What brought this option to the forefront was the need to inspect static wires that are installed over substations to dissipate lightning strikes,” NYSEG president/CEO Mark S. Lynch stated in a press release. “Helicopters aren’t really practical for this task, and the view from eyes on the ground is less than optimal. It seemed that drones might be just the tool that we needed.”
The utility currently uses drones over 36 substations in Niagara, Erie, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Wyoming counties. Maine-based drone company Coutts Brothers operates the drones under a Section 333 exemption.
Meanwhile, other Empire State utilities envision drone technology as a viable future solution for inspections. Last month, the Electric Power Research Institute sponsored a three-day workshop in Blenheim, N.Y. to demonstrate drone capabilities for power-company executives. The Institute conducted a mock inspection on power lines in the Catskill Mountains.
“We want to start using drones next spring when the inspection season begins,” New York Power Authority official Alan Ettlinger told the Associated Press.
“When you look at the amount of information we can gain to make accurate decisions about our systems, and look at the cost and time savings, this is a huge opportunity for us,” Consumer Energy executive Andrew Bordine added.
Over this past summer, his company launched an inspection drone in Cement City, Mich. That can transport a 14-pound payload and can be used to inspect utility lines and take thermal and regular video images.
San Diego Gas and Electric Company has also received FAA permission to inspect power grids via UAV and is limited to the InstantEye Mk-2 Gen2 weighing less than 55 pounds including payload. Southern Electric Company and Utility Aerial Services both garnered an exemption for utility inspection as well.
Phoenix Air UNMANNED may well have been granted the broadest authority in the number of exemption uses. The FAA granted the UAV firm permission to conduct: “flare stack inspection; utility-power generation system inspections and patrolling; pipeline inspection and patrolling; filmmaking, cinematography, and videography; precision agriculture; wildlife and forestry monitoring; aerial surveying; construction site inspection and monitoring, and public entity support operations.”
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.
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