San Antonio Utility Goes All in on Drones

San Antonio-based utility CPS Energy is now using drones to perform routine inspections of overhead infrastructure in a safer and more efficient way than conventional methods, the company has announced.

CPS Energy says it started testing out unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to inspect transmission towers and associated high-voltage lines in May 2017. Through the pilot, the utility learned that drone inspections of 50 transmission line towers were completed in 2.5 days; normally, this work would have taken nearly two weeks to complete with conventional methods. CPS Energy anticipates drones will be used to inspect equipment approaching its end of life, as well as equipment damaged during severe weather.

“We are integrating new technologies to expand our capabilities and operate more efficiently,” comments Cris Eugster, chief operating officer at CPS Energy. “Performing inspections with the use of drones helps maintain the safety of our employees and leads to faster inspections of our overhead infrastructure. This proactive effort helps us identify potential issues and mitigate future power outages.”

According to the utility, UAS offer the flexibility of performing routine infrastructure inspections from a safe distance whenever challenging or unsafe access issues are present, such as rough terrain, obstructions or animals. During times of severe weather, drones can assess impacted areas and help provide information used to prioritize how the utility responds to widespread power outages, says CPS Energy.

Currently, CPS Energy has two drones in its inventory. The operators must follow Federal Aviation Administration regulations and ensure they are being mindful of customer privacy, the utility notes. CPS Energy says it is also committed to providing advance notice to the community whenever planned drone inspections occur near their home or business.

For customers, the use of drones may help keep them out of the dark, as early detection of failing equipment can be repaired or replaced before they experience an unplanned power outage, the utility says. CPS Energy believes the use of the technology will lead to work efficiency, increased productivity, accuracy improvements and enhanced customer service.

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