Southern California Edison says it plans to spend an estimated $50 million in drone inspection services over the next three years to ensure that nearly 160,000 of its electricity poles are adequately maintained. The news comes a day after the utility was sued by a second group of families alleging that a “negligent reckless, and willful failure” to maintain electrical equipment led to the outbreak of the destructive Fairview Fire last month.
The drone services contract, easily one of the largest in the world, has been awarded to two companies, one of which is Maryland-based MissionGO.
Typically, MissionGO is in the news for the transportation of human organs via drones. In 2019, for instance, the company made history by carrying a transplant kidney to a hospital in Baltimore. But not many know that this was the same year the drone services provider started conducting pole inspection trials for Southern California Edison.
During this time, MissionGO performed over 6,500 sorties and cataloged more than 1,200 hours of flight time. More specifically, the team reviewed and captured data from 20,000 distribution poles and 4,000 transmission poles with zero incidents.
These flight operations, MissionGO explains, have helped Southern California Edison to prevent wildfires and given the utility the time needed to prioritize and repair infrastructure to keep the community safe.
Using drones for utility pole inspections does present clear advantages over the conventional process where a worker is required to climb each individual pole, look it over, check the connectors and insulators, etc. The manual inspection process is laborious, time-consuming, and inherently dangerous.
A small drone, however, can look over an entire pole and the corresponding lines in no more than a minute or two while also eliminating the risk posed by climbing poles. In addition, drone data can be compared over a course of time to track deterioration rates of key components of any type of structure, ensuring not only a safe structure now, but also forecasting for secure equipment in the future.
The Fairview Fire broke out on September 5, killing two and forcing the evacuations of thousands in the city of Hemet. The cause of this fire has not yet been determined.
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