Double duty for drones? Assessing storm damage on utility lines
By: SGN Staff
Repairing power lines in the aftermath of a storm is tough enough, but sometimes finding and assessing the damage is an even harder chore, as utilities well know. Fallen trees, icy roads and other obstacles frequently make it incredibly difficult for crews to reach locations to evaluate damage to distribution lines.
But the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has been working on the challenge and has come up with what sounds like a real solution: unmanned aircraft (drones) equipped with high-definition video cameras that can transmit useful real-time information to utilities. By transmitting the images from heights of from 5,000 to 7,000 feet, the drones can send accurate information to help utilities evaluate the damage.
"Our research clearly shows that drones may provide utilities a tool that could reduce outage restoration time," said Matthew Olearczyk, senior program manager for distribution research at EPRI. "Using live streaming video information, utility system operations would be able to dramatically improve damage assessment."
And that better information can help operators more quickly and effectively send out crews, determine repair priorities and communicate more accurate and up-to-date information to customers.
Researchers evaluated a number of drone technologies in terms of aircraft performance, control systems and payload. EPRI found that drones could be deployed quickly, making it possible for utilities to cover a much larger area than ground crews can. The organization also is looking at drones and their remote sensing technologies for overhead transmission line inspections.
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EPRI Tests Confirm Viability of Using Drones to Assess Storm Damage on Distribution Systems
Technology Could Help Accelerate Outage Restoration
PALO ALTO, Calif. - (April 4, 2012) - The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has completed tests determining that unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, can be used effectively to assess storm damage on utility distribution systems.
Conducted at the New Mexico State University Flight Test Center, the tests involved navigating several aircraft technologies and using high resolution video cameras to transmit images of power lines from a height of 5,000 to 7,000 feet. The tests determined that such images can be used by electric utilities to assess damage and pinpoint its location following a storm.
In the wake of a storm, damage assessment is frequently a choke point in power restoration due largely to obstacles, such as downed trees blocking roads or icy conditions that make it extremely difficult for utility crews to get to and report on distribution line damage.
"Our research clearly shows that drones may provide utilities a tool that could reduce outage restoration time,” said Matthew Olearczyk, senior program manager for distribution research at EPRI. "Using live steaming video information, utility system operators would be able to dramatically improve damage assessment.”
With more accurate and timely information, system operators can better dispatch crews, establish repair priorities, and communicate more timely and accurate information to their customers.
Researchers assessed several drone technologies, looking at aircraft performance, control systems, and payloads.
The tests indicated that unmanned airborne technologies equipped with sensors, cameras and global positioning systems (GPS) could be deployed quickly, allowing utilities to evaluate large areas more quickly than ground-based crews, then develop a repair strategy and mobilize repair crews more quickly and effectively.
EPRI will also be evaluating drones and remote sensing technologies for inspection and assessment of overhead transmission lines. As part of this research, functional requirements will be identified for UAV inspection and market surveys will identify available UAV inspection technologies, services, and their costs.
Other industries such as oil and gas, forestry, and meteorology are evaluating or using unmanned air vehicle technology.
The Electric Power Research Institute, Inc. (EPRI, www.epri.com) conducts research and development relating to the generation, delivery and use of electricity for the benefit of the public. An independent, nonprofit organization, EPRI brings together its scientists and engineers as well as experts from academia and industry to help address challenges in electricity, including reliability, efficiency, health, safety and the environment. EPRI’s members represent more than 90 percent of the electricity generated and delivered in the United States, and international participation extends to 40 countries. EPRI’s principal offices and laboratories are located in Palo Alto, Calif.; Charlotte, N.C.; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Lenox, Mass.