UAS - Changing the Game for Transmission Line Inspections
Drone Transmission Line Inspections: A Case Study
Over the course of a two-year proof-of-concept Dominion Energy contracted HAZON Solutions to prove transmission line inspections could be executed using unmanned systems. The results compiled by HAZON from our work with Dominion Energy and several other energy companies are clear and unmistakable, unmanned systems detect 40% more areas of concerns (AOC) at a competitive price point and with an increased safety margin.
Dominion Energy is one of the nation’s largest producers and transporters of energy, with a portfolio of approximately 25,900 megawatts of electric generation, 14,800 miles of natural gas transmission, gathering and storage pipeline, and 6,600 miles of electric transmission lines. Dominion Energy operates one of the nation’s largest natural gas storage systems with 1 trillion cubic feet of storage capacity and serves more than 5 million utility and retail energy customers.
Energy companies are compelled by both regulations and business practices to maintain their infrastructure through routine inspections and when necessary, maintenance. Traditionally transmission structure inspections would rely on dispatching helicopters or linemen to climb towers to inspect equipment.
Helicopters represent a fast option with a certain vantage point that works from the edges of the right-of-way towards the structure, from above the structure down towards the earth. Conversely, linemen work from the inside out and from the ground up. Yet, both are limited by the very nature of the physical angles available to them which ultimately leaves certain components undetected.
Traditional inspection techniques also represent an increase in risk to both infrastructure assets and personnel with an inherent risk factor.
How Unmanned Systems Helped
Utilizing unmanned systems, HAZON Solutions collects actionable data that is otherwise difficult, dangerous or costly to gather. Introducing drones into the inspection paradigm changed the game. Unmanned aircraft can work the same angles as a helicopter and a lineman in one inspection.
When put into direct comparison with helicopters and linemen, a trained crew using an unmanned aircraft demonstrated a repeatable 40% higher detection rate of AOCs. The clear distinguishing factor is the removal of barriers; unmanned aircraft can work from any angle and provide a true comprehensive inspection.
Over the course of a two-year proof of concept partnered with Dominion Energy, HAZON Solutions have been able to reduce cost per structure to an acceptable and sustainable price point. Through the proof of concept, the key metric became structures inspected per day.
After 15 months of research, training, testing and process improvement, HAZON inspection teams became competitive with traditional inspection techniques. Notably there have been zero injuries to personnel and zero damage to Dominion Energy property or infrastructure.
The business case for transitioning to unmanned based inspections of transmission lines is clear. With a 40% higher detection rate of AOCs, increased safety factor and competitive cost there is little to lose for any energy company.
Moving forward process refinements will continue. We expect fault detection rates to remain relatively constant while structures per day march upward. Energy companies across the country are rapidly adopting the technology, not as a novelty but rather based as a natural evolution of the inspection process.