Hawaii Utilities Say Aloha to Unmanned Aircraft Systems

The Hawaiian Electric Cos. have begun to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for a variety of inspections, including for storm response.

The Hawaiian Electric Cos. – Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light – provide electricity for 95% of residents in the state of Hawaii on the islands of Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Hawaii Island.

“Using unmanned aircraft, when appropriate, can help us provide our customers with better service by allowing inspections that are safer, faster and less expensive,” explains Colton Ching, Hawaiian Electric’s vice president for energy delivery. “While unmanned aircraft won’t replace helicopters and other traditional inspection techniques, they can reduce their use in some cases.”

Hawaiian Electric says its UAS program is in full compliance with all Federal Aviation Administration rules.

According to the utility, drones can be deployed quickly to provide a snapshot of system conditions after storms, wildfires or other disasters. They can also be used routinely as part of Hawaiian Electric’s asset management program – allowing inspection and then repair or replacement of equipment ahead of likely failure. They will also be used to assist with environmental concerns, such as identifying albizia tree infestations that can cause service outages if they’re in close proximity to power lines.

The Hawaiian Electric Cos. have unmanned aircraft in various sizes: Three weigh less than 7.5 pounds and can fly for approximately 15 minutes. In addition, they can be outfitted with additional sensors such as infrared and multispectral cameras. Two of the drones are under a pound and can be quickly deployed and are easily maneuverable in high winds.

The UAS program is being developed in consultation with Teena Deering, a former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot who developed a similar program for San Diego Gas & Electric Co. Deering teaches classes for the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency in using UAS for disaster response.

Hawaiian Electric Cos. are also collaborating on technical issues with the University of Hawaii College of Engineering.


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