- SDG&E may be the first utility in the U.S. to start officially testing drones out on its right-of-way transmission lines after receiving permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to do so.
- The test is to fly two small, lightweight drones along a 0.5 mile by 2.5 mile stretch of transmission lines in a remote area of San Diego County.
- The company is testing to see how safe and reliable the drones are, if they can fly in high wind, and if they can track not only utility information, but weather and fire information as well.
The pair of drones cost SDG&E $6,000 — far less than a helicopter or other means of monitoring remote lines. The drones can also be deployed at any time, while planning and paying for an outing to inspect lines via human transportation would take more time and cost more. The drones could help SDG&E spot problems early on and increase reliability on the grid.
However, the test drones are being test-flown in the pilots' line of sight per the FAA agreement, which means that the pilots must see the drones while operating them. To operate remotely, the drones have a live feed camera to help the operator navigate them, but this still needs to be tested for efficacy, safety and the privacy of others. But with this first FAA permit, it is only a matter of time before other utilities start testing and then using drones to inspect transmission lines.