ComEd, the utility which powers the lives of more than 4 million customers across northern Illinois (or 70% of the state’s population), has started using drones for vegetation management near power lines.
A unit of Chicago-based Exelon Corporation, ComEd says its pilot drone program began almost a month ago when a spraying drone delivered herbicide on two acres of right-of-way land in Forest View, Illinois. This test site sits in an industrial area full of tall, dense vegetation including buckthorn, box elder, and mulberry plants. Should the vegetation have grown onto the nearby power lines, it could have caused outages or service disruptions in the area.
The drone deployment process took some 45 minutes, during which 0.75 gallons of herbicide were sprayed precisely where required using GPS coordinates. In contrast, ComEd says, manual workers would have taken approximately two days and 8 gallons of herbicide solution to complete the job.
Essentially, the drone delivered a fine mist of herbicide over the targeted field, providing more consistent, controlled coverage than spraying from ground level.
The company says it was waiting until now to talk about this innovative program because it first wanted to check the efficacy of drone-based vegetation management. And now, an inspection of the area has indicated that the drone herbicide deployment was successful.
The utility’s immediate plan is to further refine and deploy this program in other areas, so it can remove or maintain vegetation overgrowth more safely and efficiently.
Michelle Blaise, senior vice president of technical services at ComEd, says:
ComEd is the first Midwest utility to utilize drones in our vegetation management program to more efficiently and more safely mitigate the threat of power outages due to plant growth or overgrowth around our power lines.