The New York Power Authority (NYPA) is collaborating with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to investigate and evaluate automated inspection and image processing capabilities using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), more commonly referred to as drones. The project will field test new technologies with the goal of making transmission system inspections safer, faster and more efficient while providing greater detail than current techniques. By improving NYPA’s inspection capabilities, the project supports Governor Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) strategy to build a more resilient energy system.
“By leveraging drone technology, NYPA believes that we can automate inspections of our transmission towers to be safer, faster and more efficient than our current inspection methods, while providing better image resolution and data‑gathering capabilities,” said Gil C. Quiniones, NYPA CEO and president.
NYPA technicians would be able to place a drone at the base of a transmission tower and start an inspection with a push of a button. The drone will follow a routine, gathering information on the structure and key components. Once a tower inspection is complete, the drone will return to its launch position, and can then be placed at the base of the next tower to repeat the process.
To further automate the process, software is being investigated to analyze the thousands of images gathered during each inspection. Machine learning processes will be used to generate criteria for identifying potential issues, like broken or cracked insulators, ice buildup on a tower, or structural degradation. That will help reduce the amount of content that NYPA inspection teams need to review to determine the appropriate course of action.
“EPRI is at the forefront of researching new technologies with potential electric utility applications that could provide greater efficiency, reliability and safety,” said Mike Howard, EPRI president and CEO. “The combination of UAS, machine learning, and automated image processing is another example of that with the goal of helping NYPA and other electric utilities make informed decisions and deploy these emerging technologies for the benefit of customers.”
NYPA owns and operates approximately one‑third of New York’s high‑voltage power lines. The lines transmit power from NYPA’s three large hydroelectric generation facilities and wind power generation facilities, connecting nearly 7,000 megawatts of renewable energy to New York State’s power grid. Included in that renewable power is 6,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power and about 700 megawatts, or more than a third, of New York State‑generated wind energy to the grid.
The UAS inspection and image processing automation project, part of NYPA’s Asset Management and Smart Generation and Transmission strategies, kicked off in early 2018 and will be completed by the end of the year. The final product will be a report, issued by EPRI, discussing the practical aspects of an automated inspection program and a roadmap for utilities to follow for implementation. The insights gained as part of the project will allow NYPA to better monitor and maintain the New York State transmission system as it works to become the nation’s first end‑to‑end digital utility.
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