Photo by Infravision.

PG&E Hosts Drone Pilots for Electric Utility Operations

Dec. 18, 2023
PG&E began using drones in detailed electric transmission infrastructure inspections in 2015.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. convened hundreds of certified drone pilots, industry collaborators, community partners and federal stakeholders in San Ramon, Calif. for a conference exploring the usage of uncrewed aerial systems for utility operations.

According to a release from PG&E, the event included product demonstrations and discussions with UAS hardware, software and drone service providers including Advexure, Airdata, Infravision and Skydio, along with speakers from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Unmanned Safety Institute and several former United States Navy F/A 18 pilots who are charting the course for UAS technology advancements.

PG&E began using drones in detailed electric transmission infrastructure inspections in 2015, but ramped their usage by 2020 having proven their ability to make inspections more efficient and productive.

In 2022, PG&E deployed UAS technology to perform gas pipeline leak surveys on 16 miles of water crossings traditionally done by boat.

In 2023, working with Skydio, PG&E became the first utility in California to begin conducting fully remote drone operations for electric system inspections after receiving a waiver from the FAA to operate drones "beyond the visual line of sight" for a variety of inspections, providing a triple advantage of increased system, operator and community safety; reduced time and resources; and cost savings.

PG&E recently expanded its UAS applications beyond inspections, becoming the first utility in North America to string powerlines with drones working with Austin, Texas-based Infravision.

PG&E began using the Infravision TX UAV Stringing System to string powerlines in 2022, and has used the system 20 times, largely to repair sections of its overhead electric distribution grid damaged by winter storms, but also to proactively reconductor higher-voltage transmission lines.

The Infravision TX system can be deployed in areas and conditions where helicopters cannot fly, including for service restoration in difficult terrain during and after storms and for reconductoring projects in highly complex urban and suburban environments.

PG&E has a multi-year, agreement with Infravision to operate the TX system. PG&E has shared its experience using the TX system with the Edison Electric Institute, conducted trainings with British Columbia-based electric utility BC Hydro, and facilitated demonstrations for its sister utilities Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric.

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