A major Kansas utility is ramping up a two-year love affair with drone technology.
Westar Energy, a company serving nearly 700,000 customers in much of east and east-central Kansas, recently announced a drone program that will inspect rural power lines for breakage and damage as well as boilers.
With tornadoes and ice storms ravaging the region each year, power-line repair is a constant necessity. Reaching downed or damaged power lines in rural areas can be both difficult and dangerous for Westar crews – especially since some of the lines carry 69,000 volts or more. Drone inspection drives down cost and reduces the threat of accidents.
“It’s absolutely a cost savings at this point,” Westar supervisor Jason Klenklen told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “Instead of using manned aircraft, we’re using unmanned aircraft.”
The drone world is familiar territory to Westar. In 2013, the company collaborated with Kansas State University-Salina to establish a drone research program. Two years later, the partnership created the UAS pavilion, one of the largest enclosed drone flight facilities in the U.S. – 300-feet-long by 200-feet-wide and 50-feet-tall.
Westar Energy donated 25 wooden poles and the pavilion features custom-made netting panels on all sides and across the top. Since the pavilion is not completely closed off to the outdoors, drone pilots will not be hampered by blocked GPS signals.
The facility enables students to experience top-flight drone training in an open environment that ensures safe operations with no interference with other campus activities, including manned aircraft operations.
Across several industries, energy companies and public utilities may have the most to gain from inspection drones in terms of worker safety and cost savings.
In October, the University of Texas announced a partnership with software developer Arcturus Business Solutions to improve drone-based aerial inspections of power lines in India.
In California, Pacific Gas and Electric Company announced plans in May to test inspection drones to “monitor electric infrastructure in hard-to-reach areas and … detect methane leaks across its 70,000-square-mile service area.”
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.
Subscribe to DroneLife here.