Drones Used to Detect Storm Damage on Utility Power Lines

PALO ALTO, California, April 6, 2012 (ENS) – Unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, are proving to be useful at assessing storm damage to electricity distribution systems to help utilities quickly restore power after an outage.

The Electric Power Research Institute tested a variety of different drones at the New Mexico State University’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Test Center, using high resolution video cameras to transmit images of power lines from a height of 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

Drones equipped with cameras can show utilities exactly where their equipment has been damaged. (Image from video by Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems Association)

Electric utilities can use these images to assess damage and pinpoint damaged locations following a storm.

In the wake of a storm, damage assessment is a frequent power restoration choke point, especially when obstacles, such as downed trees, blocked roads or icy conditions make it tough for utility crews to get to and report on distribution line damage.

“Our research clearly shows that drones may provide utilities a tool that could reduce outage restoration time,” said Matthew Olearczyk, senior program manager for distribution research at EPRI.

“Using live steaming video information, utility system operators would be able to dramatically improve damage assessment,” he said.

With more accurate and timely information, system operators can better dispatch crews, establish repair priorities, and communicate more timely and accurate information to their customers.

Researchers assessed several drone technologies, looking at aircraft performance, control systems, and payloads.

The tests showed that unmanned airborne technologies equipped with sensors, cameras and global positioning systems could be deployed rapidly, allowing utilities to evaluate large areas more quickly than ground-based crews, then develop a repair strategy and mobilize repair crews more quickly and effectively.

EPRI also will be evaluating drones and remote sensing technologies for inspection and assessment of overhead transmission lines.

As part of this research, functional requirements will be identified for inspection of drones. In addition, market surveys will identify available drone inspection technologies, services, and their costs.

Other industries such as oil and gas, forestry, and meteorology are evaluating or already using unmanned air vehicle technology.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.