- The Edison Electric Institute and Sharper Shape, a leader in drone development, have partnered to demonstrate to federal officials that flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) for electric companies can be a safe, effective and efficient manner of inspecting power lines, Smart Grid News reports.
- Currently, federal law limits drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, to operating within sight of the "pilot," which utilities say limits their effectiveness and cost-savings potential.
- The Federal Aviation Administration has approved several utilities to begin testing the use of drones for power line monitoring, including San Diego Gas & Electric, Commonwealth Edison, Southern Co. and Xcel Energy.
Despite visions of a future where drones remotely survey power lines, bringing cost savings and reliability to power customers, EEI said the bulk of inspections of transmission and distribution lines are done via helicopter or manually from the ground. BVLOS drone flights could provide "significant benefits by enabling a safe, efficient and fast method of inspection," the group said.
"The safe use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems can help electric power companies improve the reliability, resiliency, and security of the power grid, which ultimately benefits electricity customers," EEI Director of Government Relations Chris Hickling said in a statement.
The partnership with Sharper Shape will help the industry safely develop the use of BVLOS flights, EEI said, ultimately giving crews "yet another tool to quickly and efficiently inspect critical assets during routine maintenance and following a storm or natural disaster," Hickling said. Several electric power companies are already flying unmanned aircraft systems within line of sight, he said, and EEI wants to work with FAA and other stakeholders to "expand these efforts as we work toward regulatory approval of BVLOS flights for our industry."
San Diego Gas & Electric, Commonwealth Edison, Southern Co. and Xcel Energy. have all received approvals to monitor power assets via drone, but so far those early efforts have been limited to small programs executed while the drone is visible to operators.
"We are very excited to be working with EEI to help deliver a new tool that electric power companies can use to improve their operations and enhance the value delivered to all U.S. electricity customers," said Sharper Shape Founder Tero Heinonen. "We believe the EEI - Sharper Shape Consortium will be instrumental in paving the way for the safe use of UAS for inspections."
Sharper Shape has worked for the adoption of commercial beyond-sight flights for energy providers in Europe, and Heinonen said the company is "excited to help develop a framework for large-scale and economic BVLOS UAS flights for all electric power companies in the U.S."