In the electric utility industry, drones have helped companies to survey damage following storms and inspect infrastructure. Recently, however, California utilities are using the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as a proactive measure during wildfire season.
High winds can uproot poles and snap wires, igniting a spark that can set nearby vegetation on fire. For example, last year, many of California's fires were the result of or enhanced by damaged or at-risk high-voltage power lines, according to Flight Evolved, a small team of pilots, computer scientists and engineers based in San Diego, California.
The company is now working with Calfornia utilities to help to prevent billions of dollars worth of damage due to the wildfires. To prevent damage to infrastructure, California utilities can use UAVs with affixed LiDAR remote sensors. According to the company, this approach is more cost and time effective than deploying manned crews to evaluate thousands of high voltage power lines. Further, manned crews are not able to asses each and every pole and line, especially those located in remote, tough to access locations. UAVs are capable of flying over far-ranging areas and into technical, remote locations.
By using LiDAR remote sensing technology, Flight Evolved can also gather data, which utilities can use to determine when a pole should be replaced, if vegetation is creeping too close, and if the line clearances meet regulations. In certain areas, vegetation trimming must be in compliance with California's minimum distances of up to 10 ft between flammable vegetation and high-voltage power lines. Also, firebreaks are mandated around power poles in some areas.
The team not only acquires the data, but also analyzes it to provide recommendations for vegetation analysis and fire risk mitigation. Rather than supplying utilities with all the data and then expecting them to decipher the readings and create action, Flight Evolved provides actionable steps for pole replacement, trimming vegetation or affixing SCADA devices.
The following photo gallery shows the Flight Evolved team in action from inspecting the drones to conducting a mission.