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Drone technology and Power Lines

Over the last 12 months, Warren RECC has been reviewing the use of drones to improve power line inspections. Every normal workday, Warren RECC employees inspect the electric transmission and distribution system. With over 5,400 miles of distribution lines and over 200 miles of transmission lines, Warren RECC must inspect its lines on a daily basis to keep up with its 5-year cycle.   

Currently, employees walk and use trucks or ATVs to inspect distribution power lines. To inspect transmission power lines, a rented helicopter is utilized. The inspections are performed to identify damaged poles, conductors, hardware, and transformers. When damage is detected, it is recorded and prioritized from urgent to items that are put on a repair schedule.   

Not all inspections will be on a schedule. Warren RECC envisions the use of drones for normal inspections as listed above, but also to assist in restoring power more quickly. In some parts of southern Kentucky the terrain can become very rugged, from foothills to river crossings.   Warren RECC serves a territory from the Tennessee state line to over 60 miles north and approximately 48 miles wide at the center; furthermore, our service area covers all or parts of eight counties.  The land terrain changes dramatically north of Bowling Green with rolling to rugged hills and some places our trucks cannot travel.

Warren RECC drones will be much larger than what is typically used by hobbyists. The largest drone Warren RECC plans to utilize will be over 5 feet in diameter and will be used to fly over lines to search for power line damage to record problems. The smaller models will be approximately 2 feet in diameter and will be used to assist in smaller work areas to inspect and help restore power. The drones will be equipped with advanced technology such as infrared cameras and Automatic Dependent Surveillance System (ADS) for general aviation, which provides Warren RECC operators with real-time information about nearby manned aircraft.  The ADS System would assist in preventing a drone from crashing into a nearby airplane or helicopter.

Warren RECC personnel have acquired training and have received their FAA certifications for piloting these vehicles. In addition, the company has proper insurance on the vehicles as we do with any of our trucks and equipment. Going forward, the use of the drones will have an improvement on the following items:

  • Safety of Warren RECC employees by reducing the threat of being in harm’s way.
  • Response time of repairs by identifying problems before and after they occur.
  • Be equipped with infrared cameras to spot line and equipment temperatures that can lead to failure.
  • Pulling lightweight power lines across rivers, gorges, and creeks. This will save time during construction and also repairs.

Warren RECC is also looking at applications for improved vegetation management to control trees from getting into power lines. This could help lower costs to maintain reliability for electric service. In addition, Warren RECC’s national association–NRECA–is working with Congress and the FAA to make provisions for flying at night. As everyone knows, power outages can happen at any time, day or night.

As Warren RECC begins to fly these industrial-grade drones, more than likely, you will see a Warren RECC vehicle nearby piloting the drone. People are advised NOT to fire any weapons at these drones, as they are very expensive and, if damaged, the incident will be treated no differently than a Warren RECC vehicle being shot at.

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