DroneSunset Leonid Eremeychuk
Quadrocopters silhouette against the background of the sunset. Flying drones in the evening sky.

New York Power Authority Earns Grant to Integrate Lidar Technology With Its Drone Program

NYPA’s vegetation management inspections go digital.

The New York Power Authority (NYPA) has received a $125,000 grant from the American Public Power Association (APPA) Demonstration of Energy & Efficiency Development (DEED) program to research and integrate light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology into its existing in‑house Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) program for vegetation management inspections along NYPA’s transmission lines. UAS, more commonly referred to as drones, have the potential to increase safety, lower cost, improve responsiveness and reduce the time to perform such inspections.

“The application of drones equipped with LiDAR technology will enable utilities like ours to conduct inspections with increased safety and improved efficiency,” says Gil C. Quiniones, NYPA president and CEO. “This project not only moves the industry forward, but also plays a critical role in NYPA’s progress toward becoming the nation’s first end‑to‑end digital utility by digitizing inspection operations and collecting data with enhanced precision.”

In February 2019, NYPA will begin a year‑long pilot project to determine the optimal combination of drone and LiDAR technology for use in utility industry inspections. NYPA’s R&D team will evaluate combinations of drone and LiDAR technology, aimed at keeping the total weight of a drone with LiDAR equipment under 55 pounds in order to comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Part 107 for the operation of “small” drones. By focusing the program on small drones, NYPA will be able to streamline the integration of LiDAR technology with the current scope of NYPA’s drone program using its team of certified small drone pilots.

Currently, NYPA’s vegetation management program relies on contracting specialized companies with LiDAR‑equipped manned aircraft, with the inspection cycle for the entire transmission system repeated every four years. It is expected that drone operations provide the opportunity to reduce the inspection cycle through improved responsiveness and shorter inspection times, and greatly reduce the hazards associated with these inspections by eliminating the need to place contractors or employees near energized equipment, improving the overall safety of inspections.

LiDAR technology paired with the UAS program will help optimize NYPA’s operations by reducing the cost of inspections by allowing NYPA to control and manage inspection processes, and conduct more frequent or as‑needed inspections to maintain system reliability in a flexible manner. This not only helps NYPA achieve its Vision 2020 Strategic Plan to lead New York’s evolving energy system, but also benefits customers by identifying and addressing potential outages before they occur. By digitizing and optimizing NYPA’s inspection processes, the project helps advance Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) strategy to develop a leading and resilient energy system in New York State.

NYPA owns and operates about one‑third of New York’s high‑voltage power lines. These lines transmit power from NYPA’s three large hydroelectric generation facilities and Independent wind power generation facilities, connecting nearly 7,000 mW of renewable energy to New York State’s power grid. This includes connecting more than 6,300 mW of hydroelectric power and about 700 mW, or more than a third, of New York State‑generated wind energy to the grid.

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