CPS Energy in Austin, Texas, has begun using drones to perform routine inspections of overhead infrastructure.
“We are integrating new technologies to expand our capabilities and operate more efficiently,” said Cris Eugster, chief operating officer at CPS Energy. “Performing inspections with the use of drones helps maintain the safety of our employees and leads to faster inspections of our overhead infrastructure. This proactive effort helps us identify potential issues and mitigate future power outages.”
CPS Energy piloted the use of drones to inspect transmission towers and associated high voltage lines in May 2017. During the pilot, the utility completed drone inspections of 50 transmission line towers in 2.5 days. Normally, this work would have taken nearly two weeks to complete using conventional methods. The utility anticipates drones will be used to inspect equipment approaching its end of life as well as equipment damaged during severe weather.
Drones offer the flexibility of performing routine infrastructure inspections from a safe distance whenever challenging or unsafe access issues are present. Rough terrain, obstructions and even animals can slow the progress of obtaining critical information that helps the utility evaluate the performance of their equipment. During times of severe weather, drones can assess impacted areas and help provide information used to prioritize how the utility responds to widespread power outages.
Currently, CPS Energy has two drones in its inventory. The drone pilots must follow Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines and ensure they are being mindful of customer privacy when conducting drone operations. CPS Energy is committed to providing advance notice to the community whenever planned drone flight inspections occur near their home or business.
For customers, the use of drones may keep them out of the dark as early detection of failing equipment can be repaired or replaced before they experience an unplanned power outage. The utility believes the use of drones will lead to work efficiency, increased productivity, accuracy improvements and enhanced customer service.