Initially the focus on drones or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) was on their inappropriate use by individuals, but business is finding innovative ways of using drones.
The idea of getting a bird’s-eye view of distribution and transmission power lines without deploying a crew is of great interest to electric cooperatives. Co-ops are using drones to inspect power lines, poles, and towers as part of a routine inspection program and after major storms.
Currently, UAVs are being utilized for video inspection, infrared evaluation, and vegetation assessment of transmission and distribution power lines.
Electric utilities are uniquely positioned to make great use of UAVs because poles and lines are stationary and generally in the same place for decades. The mapping system that utilities already maintain would allow the UAV to fly a precise route and focus exclusively on the right of way.
Still, major advancements are necessary for day-to-day operation at most utilities. The batteries contained on most civilian UAVs are currently not sufficient to fly the entire length of most power lines while carrying the necessary sensor payload. Software is needed to automate the process of reviewing video, infrared, and other sensor information taken by the UAV.
Currently, many utilities are using a person to monitor the video and information collected. An automated process would highlight segments of the video for detailed human inspection.