Sacramento Municipal Utility District Goes With UAVs

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) in California is partnering with PrecisionHawk to acquire aerial imagery for routine maintenance in monitoring and analyzing electric overhead transmission facilities and vegetation along rights-of-way in Sacramento and El Dorado counties.

At yesterday’s demonstration, media outlets in Sacramento were able to see firsthand SMUD’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which SMUD says deliver significant operational efficiency and improved safety for the electricity company, its customers and neighbors, and its employees.

Routine maintenance reduces outages and enhances reliability, as well as aids in fire protection and prevention efforts. However, says SMUD, drone technology costs much less than conventional monitoring, which can require the use of a helicopter.

The UAV will identify drought-related dead or dying vegetation under or near transmission lines for priority removal as the winter storm season approaches.

According to the electricity company, much of the urban forest has been damaged by years of drought and other factors; in turn, dying trees can fall into transmission lines and create public safety and electric reliability concerns.

PrecisionHawk will fly a 5-lb. UAV to collect the data. In addition, the company’s in-flight software will provide flight planning and management, and data will be processed with the company’s DataMapper software.

On board the aircraft are multispectral, high-definition digital cameras and sensors, including laser technology, all of which can help determine specific trees that need pruning or removal.

In an effort to alleviate privacy and safety concerns, SMUD says it will notify nearby residents and businesses prior to the flights. The information gathered is limited only to SMUD’s infrastructure and rights-of-way.

SMUD says it will seek available grants from the governor’s office for analysis of fire danger associated with tree mortality to complement the efforts. The U.S. Forest Service and Sierra Pacific Industries may be end-users of the analysis to help determine vegetation mortality rates.


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