Traditionally, helicopters have been used to inspect power lines because of the vast distances between the power grids. Drones enable utility workers to inspect these same powerlines much more efficiently. For example, at West Oregon Electric Cooperative, jobs that once took days to complete, are being done quickly and efficiently by drones. Drones are able to explore and inspect miles of power lines, which is especially helpful in rural environments like West Oregon Electric Coop.
“When we used to inspect rights-of-way the old-fashioned way, we’d have to send three or four guys to trample through the brush for 4 or 5 miles,” says WOEC Operations Manager Don Rose. “That job could sometimes take up to six guys two days to complete. Now we send two guys to fly a drone, and the entire inspection takes about an hour and a half. The video quality we get is exceptional, so we get all the information we need from the drone (Rocke, 2019).”
Don reported that the investment into the drone technology, training, and certification process has greatly benefited their utility in just the first year that their drone program has been active. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations require that any person using a drone for work or to collect money, must have a certification in UAS piloting. This certification requires passing the FAA’s PART 107 certification test.
West Oregon turned to General Pacific’s Northwest Drone Academy to get five of their linemen certified as Part 107 pilots. General Pacific partnered with Timberland Helicopters to provide the class which has 100% pass rate. This class greatly equipped the linemen to succeed when taking the test. The test fee is even included in the class price.
Mark Gibson, Timberland’s general manager speaks to the use of drones,
“There is a lot of potential for UAS applications in the utility space, they can’t do everything, but they can save a lot of time and improve safety. Drones can keep a guy from having to climb a tower in bad weather or trudging through snow for miles. It can make mapping systems more cost effective. There are so many useful applications for this technology in the utility space (Rocke, 2019).”
Rocke, Ethan E. “Drone Tech Provides Valuable Solutions for Utility Industry.” Power Lines – Energy News for Consumers, Aug. 2019, pp. 28–29.