Eversource Energy to Use Drones in Power Line, Electrical Infrastructure Inspections

Eversource Energy said it plans to implement drones in its regular inspections in New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

byMarco Margaritoff|
Eversource Energy to Use Drones in Power Line, Electrical Infrastructure Inspections

Eversource Energy announced Wednesday that it plans to implement unmanned aerial vehicles in 100 percent of its regular power line and electrical infrastructure inspections, The New Hampshire Union Leader reports

The Connecticut-based utilities company said this pivot from traditional helicopter-aided inspections to unmanned aerial assistance will lower costs and the company’s use of fossil fuels. The current plans of incorporating drones into these routine inspections are focused on New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

We’ve reported on utilities companies looking toward UAVs before, as the inspection industry as a whole has become increasingly aware of how affordable and functional drones and their correlated software really are. 

The transition from manned helicopters to unmanned quadcopters, too, has become glaringly logical in recent years. The benefits, ranging from lowered costs, minimal expenditure of resources, decreased risk to personnel, and more environmentally friendly operations, are plentiful. The downside, frankly, has yet to present itself.

“It’s great for maintenance and reliability for the utility,” said drone pilot Allen Tweed of Mesa Associates Inc., which Eversource Energy has contracted to conduct its UAV inspections in New Hampshire. “A lot of times we can find potential problems before they actually cause problems. We turn all of our photographs over to the utility, and then they actually generate work orders to fix anything that we find.”

To Tweed’s point, drones in inspection can subvert your expectations. You might think the aerial approach will help you find damaged infrastructure, so you can then tend to it and fix it. More conveniently, however, the high-resolution imaging can spot areas of interest before they manifest into even bigger problems, and thereby cut costs by avoiding worst-case scenarios before they’re allowed to occur. That, perhaps, is the most underrated advantage that drones in inspection have over the more time-consuming, conventionally manual alternative.

“At first, we really were just targeting specific lines that we knew might have some issues,” said Carol Burke, Eversource Energy’s manager of transmission line operations in New Hampshire. “It worked out great, and in the last two years we ended up developing a more formal program. It’s a great way to do an inspection with very clear, detailed videos and pictures you can see any type of defect, aging or rotting on a structure.”

Eversource initially started using drones in one single town in 2016. The company wisely kept an eye on the drone industry, and observed the substantial functional and affordable improvements of the tech, deciding to expand its implementation from Nashua, New Hampshire to all three previously mentioned territories in 2018. While Burke admits that inspections via helicopter do have some advantages over their unmanned counterparts, the net-positive is still too overwhelming to dismiss. 

“It takes a lot longer to do an inspection from the ground with the drone than it would from a helicopter,” said Burke. “But the benefit of it is the details that you get with it, and the fact that we can identify much quicker anything that might be failing on the structure.” 

European utilities companies are continuing to opt for the unmanned alternative, with select companies already garnering beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) approval to conduct inspection flights in the U.S. With Eversource Energy implementing drones in Berlin, New Hampshire last week and planning to add three more UAVs to the state’s inspection, it certainly seems like this drone industry, nice-specific trend continues to grow into its own.