The utility industry is constantly investigating emerging technologies to stay abreast of opportunities to improve operational reliability and efficiency. Several leading suppliers and end users in the utility industry recently briefed ARC Advisory Group on their drone programs. The utility industry, which began investigating drone use seriously in the past few years, has developed many potential use cases involving the feasibility of using drones to support their operations. Some utilities obtained FAA 333 exemptions for testing purposes. This allowed them to fly drones to evaluate their test cases. Much of this testing happened before the FAA part 107 Small UAS (sUAS) Rule was enacted in 2016, but testing continues today.
Evaluating Utility Industry Drones
The utility industry effort follows work done by Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). EPRI evaluated drones for one of the utility industry’s most dangerous tasks: inspecting transmission towers. To achieve reliability targets, utilities must make periodic inspection plans for maintenance tasks.
This report will discuss some of the utility industry use cases and the results and conclusions reached.
With the relatively low cost for part 107 drone certification (compared to certifying a helicopter pilot), it would be cost-effective for the utility industry to maintain a staff of certified drone pilots. This would be true even if drone operation was not their full-time job. Utility transmission lines can span states, so utilities commonly maintain helicopters in multiple states, depending on the transmission line territory they serve.
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Keywords: Utility Industry, Drones, Electric Power, Transmission and Distribution, Maintenance, Asset Management, ARC Advisory Group.