In an effort to combat gas leaks and downed power lines, the utility industry has enlisted a new weapon into the fight—drones, according to a Wall Street Journal article published late last week.
In March, a California-based gas and electric company received permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to use the unmanned aircraft to scout its Southern California service area. Since then, they and several utilities companies have been approved to use drones for inspecting remote infrastructure.
As it turns out, the unmanned aerial systems- or what we know as drones- can have tremendous value for utilities and other companies that must regularly inspect hard-to-reach equipment. Drones can inspect areas in hard to reach or get to places, where it’s hard for utility workers to get around, and send back pictures showing the condition of power lines and pipelines.
Although they can’t inspect buried pipes, they can capture and send back images of vegetation around pipelines that can be a sign of problems. For example, dying greenery often is a sign of a methane leak.
Researchers who investigated the effectiveness of drone use in the utilities sector concluded the use of drones could cut utility costs and improve worker safety, both for routine inspections and for surveying damage to energy networks after natural disasters.
Regulation, however, could become an obstacle for utilities professionals as Federal rules require drone operators to be licensed pilots or specially trained, and they must keep aircraft within eyesight and below 400 feet in altitude.