Could Your Co-op Use a Drone?

Aibotix says utilities will find many ways to use its Aibot X6 drone, including inspecting high-voltage lines. (Photo By: Aibotix)A drone hunting down terrorists is commonplace, but could those unmanned aircraft be useful to electric cooperatives? A new school of thought says yes.

“What we’re looking at is the use of drones for routine, day-to-day operation and maintenance of a distribution and transmission system,” said Brian Sloboda, senior program manager at NRECA’s Cooperative Research Network.

“The drones can carry different types of cameras and sensor packages that will allow them to have different views of the utility system,” Sloboda said.

The Federal Aviation Administration keeps a tight grip on who can fly drones domestically. But a change in regulations is expected next year to allow private use of certain sizes of drones.

Sloboda urged co-ops to note the drones’ potential, pointing out that the device “can very easily allow utilities to have a more cost-effective vegetation management program. It can spot equipment that’s failing and you can replace it proactively, rather than waiting for an outage to occur.”

For co-ops covering remote, hard-to-reach areas, a drone can see “everything from tree branches, to cracked insulators, to corrosion, vegetation issues, sagging lines, pole attachments,” Sloboda said. What often takes field crews a couple of weeks would be done in a matter of days at a lower cost.

G&Ts would likely be the first co-ops to use drones, Sloboda said, since they have larger, more expensive assets.

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