Consumers Energy, Michigan's largest utility, recently launched an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) near a Jackson County electric substation to help determine how the technology can improve how the company monitors power lines, wind turbines and other equipment.
Consumers Energy says it is the fourth energy company in the U.S. – and the first in Michigan – to receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for commercial UAV use. The approval allows UAV assessing in Jackson, Mason and Tuscola counties. According to the exemption grant, the utility is authorized to operate the DJI S-1000.
The UAV is being evaluated on its performance of inspecting wind turbines and above-ground utility equipment such as poles and transformers. The technology could also result in quicker service restoration following damaging storms and reduce costs and carbon footprint, the utility says.
‘We are always looking for ways to innovate and provide Michigan with safe, affordable, reliable and environmentally sustainable energy,’ says Mary Palkovich, Consumers Energy's vice president of energy delivery. ‘We're in the process of using UAV technology on a limited basis and analyzing if it will help improve energy service delivery.
‘Twice a year, we use a helicopter to inspect high-voltage power lines,’ she adds. ‘Using a UAV in place of a helicopter could tremendously reduce fuel use and emissions, and our neighbors would experience a noise reduction in their environment.’
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, who serves on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which oversees the FAA, participated in the launch event.
‘I applaud Consumers Energy for seizing the opportunity to explore innovative and efficient ways to serve Michigan residents,’ says Peters. ‘In the Senate, I am working with my colleagues to ensure more Michigan businesses can take advantage of the benefits of UAVs so we can integrate these technologies into our airspace in a safe manner.’