Electric utility ComEd says it is expanding its drone program to allow pilots to operate inspection drones remotely, without being present on site. The utility has secured all the necessary waivers required from the FAA to conduct operations in which the drone flies beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) of the operator. And it is currently training pilots to automate drone flights using the Skydio Dock docking and recharging station.
ComEd supplies power to more than 4 million customers across northern Illinois, which is about 70% of the state’s population. The company says remote monitoring through drones will improve the overall grid performance because on-demand surveillance capabilities will increase ComEd’s ability to rapidly inspect equipment throughout its service territory.
Using an autonomous drone docking and recharging station essentially means the company need not dispatch trucks of crews to perform in-person inspections. And with drones supporting routine equipment inspection, utility crews would be free to focus on priority grid repair and improvements.
“This will help reduce operations and maintenance costs while helping identify potential problem areas and prevent power outages before they occur,” explains ComEd in a press statement. “Remote, off-site flying capabilities will also maximize ComEd’s drone pilots’ efforts by limiting the time they are physically needed in the field.”
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ComEd uses drones in a variety of ways, including inspecting power lines to assess storm damage and enable crews to restore power more quickly and efficiently. In 2022, the company also began using drones for vegetation management near power lines.
The drones included in ComEd’s Drone Dock program, meanwhile, will be equipped with a high-resolution camera and thermography tools. These features will allow the aircraft to capture detailed data, images, and video from all angles of grid equipment, which will then be reviewed to help preemptively address future equipment failures.
Right now, a Skydio Dock is installed at ComEd’s training center in Chicago where drone pilots are being trained to use the new technology. Additional docks are expected to be installed later this year throughout the company’s service territory.
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Terence Donnelly, president and COO of ComEd, says:
At ComEd, we are always looking for ways to improve our customers’ experience and advance our storm recovery efforts. Smarter equipment monitoring is one way to proactively prevent outages and support overall grid performance. The expansion of our drone program builds upon the innovative work we have done over the last decade to strengthen and modernize our system.
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