Xcel Energy, a U.S. utility serving eight Western and Midwestern states, is operating drones beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) during ongoing inspections of transmission lines near Denver.
Today, Xcel Energy joined local, state and federal officials in celebrating the milestone flights and watching a drone as it inspected electric power lines near Ft. St. Vrain Generating Station in Platteville, Colo. Using advanced command-and-control technology, remote pilots operated a 35-pound drone equipped with two cameras. The aircraft collected data on the condition of power lines and transmission towers along a 50-mile route.
“Today’s flight takes us a step closer to fully integrating unmanned aircraft into our operations,” states Ben Fowke, chairman, president and CEO of Xcel Energy. “This innovative technology is revolutionizing our work by improving the safety, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of maintaining and protecting the grid for our customers.”
“Leading the development of unmanned aircraft builds on our long-standing commitment to safety for our workers, the public and the environment,” adds David Eves, executive vice president and group president of utilities at Xcel Energy. “This is especially important in Colorado, where inspecting power lines in the mountains and remote locations is challenging work.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted Xcel Energy special permission to conduct the BVLOS flights under a waiver, announced earlier this year. The waiver allows the company to commercially operate a drone without visual observers or a chase aircraft. The authority to fly a drone BVLOS greatly enhances the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of using the technology, the utility notes.
For several years, Xcel Energy says it has collaborated with the FAA and has contributed to the development of operational and safety requirements for unmanned aircraft operations in the utility industry. Last year, the company entered into a Partnership for Safety Program with the FAA to operate drones for power line inspections within the visual sight of operators.
When the transmission inspections are completed near the Denver area, Xcel Energy and its partners will work with the FAA to extend these operations in other states in which the company provides electric service. The company surveys more than 320,000 miles of electricity and natural gas infrastructure to ensure the safety and reliability of its energy system.
Xcel Energy is currently working with several partners, including Harris Corp., the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, Phoenix Air UNMANNED LLC and Altus Intelligence.