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Drone Inspection as a Service: The Future of Electric Distribution and Transmission Line Inspection

Emerging solutions improve efficiency, are safer, and cost less than traditional approaches

Utilities make massive investments in Electric Distribution and Transmission Lines and associated equipment. Because they are usually located outdoors and often encounter inclement weather, servicing this hardware is time consuming, dangerous, inefficient, and expensive. Drone-based Inspection as a Service offers Co-ops and Municipal Utility Districts a more efficient way to get this work done.

The electricity distribution system -alone represented a $45.6 billion market in 2018 and is expected to reach $58.8 billion by 2026, a 3.2% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR), according to Allied Market Research. Once installed, utilities have to ensure that this critical infrastructure performs well.

Electric Distribution and Transmission Line Inspection Create Many Challenges

Inspecting electrical infrastructure is challenging. Multiple logistics issues drive field service operations planning including: complexity in site access, ensuring worker safety, and speed of work. These manual examinations have historically required expensive labor hours from a limited supply of highly skilled linemen who have to be on location and off-the-ground physical climbing, using bucket trucks, or flying in helicopters.

Sometimes, these same inspection crews encounter delays when trucks cannot reach their destinations; helicopters can’t fly because of weather; and linemen can’t see because of obstructing vegetation on private property. When inspections are missed or delayed, repairs are delayed. And when repairs are delayed, the probability of critical failures increases. (Not to mention the fact that these services are very expensive: visual inspection via helicopter can cost over $10,000 per hour!)

Drones Emerge as a Better Inspection Option

Drones offer many benefits to electric utility companies.

  1. Save time: T&D line inspections can be completed in a fraction of the traditional inspection time.

  2. Avoid interruption: Line and substation inspections can be completed without de-energizing.

  3. Repair Safety: In-person on-structure inspections are inherently dangerous and all-too-often result in injury or even death.

  4. Access Safety: With drones, crews avoid risks associated with entering private property; accessing poorly maintained or dangerous right-of-way areas; and dealing with unknown conditions.

  5. Using both thermal and RGB imagery, Unmanned Aerial Systems can deliver detailed inspections from vantage points inaccessible to humans. Proactively identifying defects that were otherwise invisible improves grid reliability and lowers repair costs.

  6. Strength in Numbers: On-demand lineman services like VOLT* mean that even the most resource constrained utilities can effectively leverage dozens of certified journeymen linemen to simultaneously review and validate inspections.

Because of these advantages, use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles has begun to accelerate increasing from $159.9 million in 2019 to an expected $2.8 billion by 2028, a CAGR of 37.5%, according to Adroit Market Research.

Not All Drone Service Companies are Alike

With third party Inspection as a Service -offered by UAV Recon- utility companies simply designate the line/s to be inspected and UAV Recon is responsible for the data collection, the inspection, the reporting of findings, and the integration of inspection data into existing business applications.

UAV Recon leverages veteran US Air Force pilots, VOLT* software, and a network of hundreds of journeyman linemen certified from 4 kV to 345+ kV and experienced on a range of: utility infrastructure (transmission, distribution, and substation); materials (steel, concrete, wood, and composite); and sizes (below 40 feet, 40 to 70 feet, and above 70 feet). UAV Recon’s world-class team fully understands both the flight operations and the inspection nuances of electrical infrastructure.

Your electrical infrastructure inspections are already complex and critically important. They don’t need to be prohibitively expensive anymore. The traditional methods for completing inspection work have significant cost, time, and safety shortcomings, so clearly the future of electrical infrastructure inspection is with drones and Unmanned Aerial Systems.

About the author:

Mothusi Pahl is President at UAV Recon, Chief Commercial Officer at B3 Bar Holdings, and the Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Contact UAV Recon today to schedule a free demonstration and to understand how turnkey inspection as a service can accelerate your electrical infrastructure maintenance program: or 210.504.8363.

*UAV Recon is a licensed user and re-seller of VOLT inspection software.

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