Allowing the utility to conduct aerial inspections of its facilities, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) Section 333 approval for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) operations.
Through the exemption, SDG&E can operate UAS to inspect its electric and gas facilities, including emergency-response damage assessments throughout its service territory. SDG&E says it is the second utility in the nation to be granted the Section 333 approval.
According to the exemption grant, the aircraft is an InstantEye Mk-2 Gen2. Measuring 16 inches in diameter and weighing less than a pound, the small devices use a camera to inspect utility equipment and relay live images back to the controller. The UAS can access infrastructure that is difficult to reach for utility crews and alert them if repairs are needed.
John Sowers, SDG&E’s vice president of electric distribution operations, says, “The new UAS technology will enable us to improve response times to emergency situations, inspect our electric and gas facilities in remote areas that are otherwise difficult to access, reduce the use of manned helicopters, enhance overall employee and public safety, and locate the cause of power outages faster.”
Last year, SDG&E was granted approval by the FAA to fly a small UAS for research, development and flight crew training in a sparsely populated airspace in eastern San Diego County. Through research and development, SDG&E began testing small UAS in day-to-day operations to improve inspections of electric lines.
SDG&E inspects more than 26,000 miles of transmission and distribution power lines. It provides energy service to 3.4 million consumers through 1.4 million electric meters and 868,000 natural gas meters in San Diego and southern Orange counties.
A video of the UAS tests can be found here.