- Commonwealth Edison has been approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to use unmanned aircraft systems to inspect its lines, making it the first utility to receive authorization to operate drones in the field.
- The unmanned aircraft will be used on a trial basis to inspect and assess conditions of ComEd’s transmission and distribution lines as well as substations.
- Previously San Diego Gas & Electric was approved for a drone testing program, but FAA's decision makes ComEd the first utility to operate the aircraft for regular use.
The drones are coming. Maybe sooner than we thought.
SDG&E received approval for its pilot testing program last year, and the Obama Administration recently proposed rules which could open unmanned flight to a variety of commercial uses. Now, FAA says ComEd can move forward using the aircraft in its daily operations.
“This UAS (unmanned aerial system) technology will allow us to be more proactive in identifying problems before they interrupt power to our customers,” said Terence Donnelly, executive vice president and COO of ComEd. “This will be especially useful in remote areas that can be difficult to access and will provide an added layer of safety for our workers by making it possible to inspect lines without sending a person into a hazardous area.”
The UAS's will have a camera that can provide video and still photos and will fly above power lines and substations to provide an in-depth look at the condition of the system. In the future, ComEd hopes to have an infrared camera mounted as well to identify hot spots on the lines.
The project is a joint effort with Illinois Institute of Technology.
“We are continually looking for innovative technology to improve reliability and our customers’ experience,” said Donnelly. “Right now, we use helicopters to inspect transmission lines. This initial test will help us evaluate potential benefits of using UAS technology to supplement this work.”
ComEd is also investigating the use of underground robots in its manholes, which present significant risks to workers. The utility is working with the Georgia Tech National Electric Energy Testing Research and Applications Center to evaluate the feasibility of using an underground robot to inspect complex underground spaces.