Today's unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) come in all sizes and configurations, with the potential to revolutionize aviation and the utility industry.
The technology has great promise, and the Southern Company system is seeking innovative ways to more safely and efficiently meet customers' energy needs using this emerging technology. As one of the first U.S. utilities to receive Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval to pilot UAS, subsidiary Southern Company Services is permitted to investigate the applicability of UAS for assessing weather-related damage to power lines and for routine inspections.
"Families across the Southeast depend on us to quickly and safely get the lights back on after major storms," said Southern Company Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Kimberly S. Greene. "Our innovative approach to exploring the use of unmanned aerial systems in damage assessment could speed the process of restoring power to affected communities - further delivering on our commitment to the customers our utilities serve."
Paul Schneider and his team say that unmanned aerial vehicles can be used to inspect transmission lines, in some cases accelerating the response to customers during outages. Schneider's team believes UAVs could potentially shorten outages by an average of 1.5 hours an outage, eliminating almost 11 days of outages a year.
Among their potential benefits, UAS could help utilities reduce the duration of storm-related outages, perform power line inspections more safely, lower operating and maintenance costs and reduce environmental impacts. For example, with utility infrastructure that includes more than 27,000 miles of transmission lines across 120,000 square miles in the Southeast, UAS could provide the Southern Company system a quicker and more detailed assessment of areas and infrastructure impacted by severe weather.