Electric and gas utility giant Xcel Energy has become the first ever US utility to undertake drone inspections of transmission lines using beyond-line-of-visual-sight (BVLOS) deployment.
Inspection of utilities is an absolute necessity, in order to mitigate fire danger risks, damage to infrastructure and interruption of services to customers.
It is also time consuming and costly, and the introduction of drones to the task of infrastructure inspection is a gamechanger.
The power company has spearheaded the use of BVLOS drone inspection at ongoing inspections being conducted near Denver, in the mountainous western state of Colorado.
“Today’s flight takes us a step closer to fully integrating unmanned aircraft into our operations,” said Ben Fowke, chairman, president and CEO, Xcel Energy.
“This innovative technology is revolutionizing our work by improving the safety, efficiency and cost effectiveness of maintaining and protecting the grid for our customers.
The milestone flights, carried out at near Ft. St. Vrain Generating Station in Platteville, were celebrated with local, state and federal officials as the drone inspected the power lines.
The drone, weighing in at just over 35 pounds (15kg), was operated by licenced pilots over a 50 mile (80km) route.
David Eves, executive vice president, group president-utilities, says that Xcel’s use of the emerging technology shows their commitment to safety – for their workers, the public and the environment.
This is especially important in Colorado where inspecting power lines in the mountains and remote locations is challenging work,” he said in a press release.
The flights were made possible due to special permission granted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which we reported was granted in April of this year.
The authority, which allows the drones to be flown without the need for secondary visual observers or aircraft, “greatly enhances the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of using the technology,” says the company.
Xcel has more than 320,000 miles (over 510,000km) of transmission lines in operation, and once the Denver lines are completed, drone inspection operations will be extended to other states where the power company supplies electricity services.