Across the United States, the electric industry’s interest in drone technology is growing at a rapid pace. Utilities have wasted no time jumping on board since the Federal Aviation Administration authorized drones for commercial use in 2015. As drones continue to be woven into utilities’ transmission and distribution operations, signs point to a bright future for the technology in the electric power industry.
Benefits Drones Provide Electric Utilities
The task of maintaining and inspecting high voltage transmission and distribution lines can be difficult, dangerous and costly. As a result, utilities are increasingly looking toward drones as a safe and effective tool to assist them in their T&D operations.
On average, U.S. utilities collectively spend between $6 billion to $8 billion a year to inspect and maintain their power lines with helicopters and ground crews. Drones drastically cut the costs of power line inspections for utilities. They also improve safety, increase reliability and reduce response time across transmission and distribution systems. Accessing remote areas of high voltage power lines, either when conducting routine inspections or surveying damage after storms, presents difficult and dangerous obstacles. With drones, these difficulties could all but be eliminated. Monitoring substations, switchyards and transmission lines with drones presents a welcome solution for utilities to improve safety and minimize hazardous work. Drones also give utilities the ability to quickly and efficiently identify threats to the energy grid.
With these benefits, it’s easy to understand the growing attraction to drones. A handful of utilities, including San Diego Gas & Electric, Xcel Energy, National Grid, Southern Company and Duke Energy, have either implemented or are in the process of testing the use of drones in their operations. Drones are proving to offer tremendous value to utilities and have the potential to revolutionize how they operate.
Benefits Drones Provide EPC Companies
Not only do drones act as a valuable tool for utilities, but they also provide EPC companies with the ability to capture data for project purposes. Drones can capture more than just an image. By collecting data that provide operational information and construction details, drones also have the ability to assist engineers in the process of designing the electrical infrastructure. For example, Light Detection and Ranging, referred to as LIDAR, is a remote sensing technology that measures distance by using a laser. The data are generated as 3D information which is then able to be utilized by many design applications. Drones can also gather other useful data through infrared sensors, ultraviolet cameras and radio frequency sensors.
Beta Engineering has utilized drones on several EPC projects and knows first-hand the benefits they provide. When it comes to monitoring projects with numerous solar panels or miles of transmission lines, drones allow for quick and accurate informational feedback to aid in the successful design and completion of a high voltage EPC project.
With the advantages of safely capturing images and collecting data, utilities and EPC companies alike are expected to pursue the implementation of drones into their business operations. As drones are increasingly utilized, the technology is positioned to become a standard in the high voltage industry.