July 2019

Drones: Tools for Safer, More Reliable Electric Service

Electric cooperatives are always looking for viable, cost-effective solutions to bring their members reliable and affordable electric power. This time, we are looking into the skies and into the future, because the future is now.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, are being used in the energy business throughout the country. Though the technology is relatively new to this commercial application, the companies using it effectively are seeing significant positive trends. Because of that, the movement toward drone use is growing and seems to have a bright future.

Drones are increasingly prevalent in and about our lives, from their use by the military in the defense of our nation to neighborhood children flying them as toys. We are beginning to see their proliferation as a tool for commercial businesses, which are using drones to capture aerial video and photographic imagery. You might also have seen early reports of drone delivery services. What you might not be seeing is that the technology has even greater power working for you behind the scenes with your utility service providers.

More and more drone companies are focusing resources on understanding the hard work required to inspect, repair and manage the many facets of a critical service such as electric power. In the case of managing power through transmission lines, substations and distribution lines, drones have proven to be a very effective tool for today’s lineworkers.

Today, electric utilities generally use two methods of inspections: helicopters for high-voltage lines away from unpopulated areas and ground patrols in populated areas where you cannot fly. If and when a problem is suspected, lineworkers have to climb up a tower or a pole to conduct a more detailed inspection. This is a dangerous job, and they are required to use their best judgment to determine if there is an issue with the electrical components. These inspections are critically important in ensuring reliable electric service.

Drones can provide reliable high-definition images and specialized data to help utility professionals identify problem areas. Their use will make the job of conducting the inspections safer and more reliable and safer for lineworkers, at a substantially lower cost.

There are significant benefits in using drones, which is why electric co-ops and other utilities are becoming more knowledgeable about, and properly trained in, the use of drones as a tool to provide your electric power more safely and reliably than ever. 