What is your favorite service outage? Electricity, cell phone network, the Internet? Public utilities are under constant pressure to maintain the status quo in our lives…or come under harsh criticism for every moment we feel the discomfort.

Often dealing with outdated infrastructure and harsh conditions, these unsung heroes work around the clock to ensure we can communicate, work, enjoy a show, etc., with as little disruption as possible. As in other industries, drones are set to revolutionize the way utilities solve inspection and repair issues. Utilities are spending millions of dollars inspecting infrastructure from power lines to pipelines to transmission towers, wind turbines and solar panels which are often in hard-to-reach and potentially dangerous areas. Drone (UAS) technology is proving the means to do it faster, safer, and cheaper.

What are the Benefits of Deploying Drones for the Utility Industry? We’ll Let the Experts Tell You.

Kevin Gallagher, CEO of Simulyze (a leading provider of Operational Intelligence (OI)) stated, “Utilities across the country are beginning to see the vast potential for drones to reduce costs, improve safety, increase reliability and more quickly analyze malfunctions. While utilities currently conduct most maintenance operations by manual, visual inspection, many are now using drones for a number of activities traditionally performed by helicopters and third parties, such as maintenance, line inspections and storm-damage assessments. Recent developments by the FAA have really helped pave the way toward more cost-effective UAS-based infrastructure maintenance.”

ComEd

Excerpted from ComEd Powering Lives Blog – What does an energy company do with a UAS? ComEd uses the flying technology, which comes equipped with cameras to shoot video and take photos, to inspect parts of its more than 90,000 miles of power lines positioned high above ground. After a significant storm, this technology can help keep ComEd field personnel safe by its ability to fly over hazardous areas to inspect damage to electrical equipment.

ComEd’s UAS Program Manager Linda Rhodes states, “We are using innovative technology to better serve our customers and communities,” Rhodes says. “As this program progresses, we expect to continue evolving and bringing even greater benefits in the future.” 

 

AT&T

Excerpted from the AT&T Innovation Blog – John Donovan, Chief Strategy Officer and Group President – AT&T Technology and Operations states, “By using drones to inspect a cell site, we’re able to conduct inspections more quickly and safely – and even access parts of a tower that a human simply could not.  We anticipate this will allow us to improve our customers’ experience by enhancing our cell sites faster than ever before.”

 

Ameren Corp

Excerpted from Electric Light & Power – Ameren’s use of drones has helped leaders keep a finger on the pulse of site activity at all times. It also keeps the companies more than 8,500 personnel regularly in proactive rather than reactive mode. For example, rather than waiting for an inspector to notify the team of a trip on a line between structures, site leaders can instead use “re-fly” features to set up routine inspection flights to capture and remedy issues before they grow in cost and resources.

“Our whole goal with our drones is not having to react in the future,” said Robert Kennedy, project manager at Ameren. “Acting on things before they happen increases our reliability as well as the trust of our customers. At Ameren, our business values include integrity, respect and accountability, so the trust of our customers always remains a top priority for us.”

Drone Technology Benefits All of Us

Cost-Efficient Inspections

Traditional inspection procedures can be expensive compared to using a drone. In the past, a utility company would have to rent a helicopter for a basic power-line inspection which could run as much as $2,500 an hour.

Decrease in Worker Injuries

Let’s face it; climbing to the top of a wind turbine isn’t the safest activity. A drone can inspect hard-to-reach equipment and glide over rugged terrain, where it’s hard for utility workers to get around.

Real Time Results

A single drone can capture the same data and imagery much faster than what would take two or three worker several hours to produce. Plus, drones can take that data and turn it into real-time data that can be used and analyzed almost instantly.

Better Service

There will always be disruptions, that is the nature of things. Clearly, drone technology reduces downtime, provides safer alternatives for discovering and correcting issues, and generates better data to improve the services we take for granted every day…perhaps one day it will even improve the bill we receive each month. No, drones can’t fix everything.

 

One Slightly Unusual Application

Now, the benefits just mentioned may seem to be obvious. To end today’s post, we are presenting one, not so obvious, and certainly not so conventional, way a utility company in China used a drone was to remove garbage from a power line.

Enter the fire-breathing drone.

Workers flew the drone that spewed flames and burned the trash right off the power lines. Although this does not seem safe, they were successful. Take a look at the video below that went viral back in February of this year. Despite considering this option for cleaning your garage or your child’s bedroom…we don’t recommend that you try this at home.