BVLOS drones improve power line inspections amid increasing fire and storm risks for utilities

The following is a contributed article by Geoff Zeiss, an independent consultant with more than 15 years experience developing enterprise geospatial solutions for the utilities, communications and public works industries.

Transmission line inspections for vegetation management and other purposes are essential in ensuring grid reliability and resilience. We saw the devastating effect of vegetation encroachment in the recent California fires, which in part have been blamed on failure to maintain properly cleared transmission lines.

These inspections are generally performed by manned helicopters or by a ground crew. Data is collected with cameras and analyzed to detect diseased trees that could fall and hit a powerline (fall ins) or trees that are encroaching on powerlines (grow ins). 

But both types of inspection approaches have limitations: they are expensive and time-consuming, introduce safety risks, are not always complete, accurate or timely, and in some cases, given terrain and air space restrictions, are not even practical.

Nonetheless, power line

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