The utility industry is set to integrate drone technology for less expensive, more efficient, and safer operational processes.

Utility companies, for which assets inspection plays an important part in their investment strategies, can benefit immensely from using drones. Drones allow for increased efficiency, lower inspection costs, expedited repairs, improvements in the safety of personnel, and better protection for the environment.

To integrate UAS technology into their operations, utilities have two options: develop their own drone program in-house, or outsource it to external service providers. The majority of utility companies opt for the second option to speed up the process and to focus their resources on their core mission.

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NYPA (New York Power Authority), the largest public power company in the U.S., and Ontario Power Generation, a Canadian utility company, have teamed up to test the potential of using drones for infrastructure inspection.

The company’s successful drone inspection of the Niagara ice boom seems to have convinced NYPA to introduce drones into its inspection procedures in the future.

It’s been over three years since the first utility drone program (Sempra’s San Diego Gas & Electric) was authorized by FAA and ever since it has been clear to see why utility companies have begun to integrate drones in their inspection, survey, and management operations.

The 3 Main Reasons why These Utilities Companies Develop Drone Programs:

1. Improved Data Collection

With the ability to be remotely-controlled and to host video cameras and sensors, drones can perform many types of data collection for utility companies.

Drones can also access utility infrastructures located in remote, hard-to-reach, and dangerous areas to gather high-res aerial photography and other sensory data.

The integration of drones into utility procedures calls for frontend and backend solutions to enhance the workflow even more.

For example, PwC (PriceWaterhouseCoopers) created an app that allows utility companies to better manage all geospatial data collected by drones using one convenient interface.

Cyberhawk Innovations, self-proclaimed as the “world’s most experienced utility industry drone inspection and survey company”, offers iHawk Powerline and iHawk Substation Asset Management, two programs that are already being used in 20 countries.

2. Saving Time and Money

Using a remotely-controlled drone for inspectional work is far cheaper and faster than dispatching a crew aboard a helicopter, a truck, or a boat.

By using drones for beyond visual line of sight inspections, utility companies could save up to 50% on costs compared to conventional methods. 

3. Efficient Disaster Response and Increased Safety

In 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17 utility workers experienced fatal injuries while performing inspection jobs.

Drones can work in conjunction with ground agents who use them for inspection missions. This limits physical visits and decreases the exposure to occupational hazards for these workers.

In that regard, aside from routine inspections, drones can also be used for situation monitoring and damage assessment after natural or industrial disasters.

After Hurricane Irma battered the State of Florida earlier this year, the FAA authorized drones to fly over 132 affected areas. This same program was also implemented in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

In both cases, the use of drones helped utility companies to quickly assess damage and restore power, all this while limiting the risk of accidents for agents on the ground due to disaster sites being high-risk areas.

In all, advances in drone technology along with the collective reduction of cost in purchasing and maintaining equipment and infrastructure has led to drones being used by numerous companies in data collection, risk assessment, and damage surveyal to highly beneficial degrees. It is expected that over the course of the next few years the use of drones in the utility sector will become widely commonplace.

It seems as if drones are being introduced into every aspect of industry in the modern world.

Do you think they are being overused and overhyped? Or is this the next stage in our gradual progression towards a fully autonomous labor force? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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