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The Drone Advantage


Electric co-ops across the U.S. are looking to drones to control costs, improve safety and increase reliability and response times across the grid. What can a drone do for your electric cooperative?


Improve service: By providing a bird’s eye


view of substations, transformers, conductors, pole attachments and more, your co-op can spot problems before they become outages.


Reduce outage time: Drones conduct fast


CREC apprentice lineman Will Clay pilots a UAV during a demonstration of the technology.


and comprehensive storm damage assess- ments. Are downed trees blocking access to the right of way? Your co-op crew will know it before they leave the office.


Association (NRECA), helping draft a resolution that, if approved at NRECA’s 2016 annual meeting, will allow the organization to lobby the federal govern- ment for regulations making commercial drone use viable for electric cooperatives. Regulation of UAVs in the U.S. airspace falls to the Federal Aviation


Administration (FAA). Current FAA regulations prohibit drones for commercial use from flying above 200 feet in altitude or operating within 500 feet of persons other than those operating the drone. They can’t fly at night or weigh over 55 pounds, and the drone must stay within sight of its operator at all times. For electric co-ops owning thousands of miles of hard-to-reach electric line, the line of site provision is particularly vexing. No night flights also restrict a co-op’s ability to use drones for 24/7 storm assessments and other tasks. The FAA is expected to issue its final ruling on drones sometime this summer. “This is something that could make or break our ability to use UAVs as a daily tool,” Krueger says. “If we don’t get the FAA rule right, this industry goes away as far as co-ops are concerned.”


A Buzz and Beyond


South of Stillwater, a DJI Quadcopter lifts off from the doorway of a ware- house where a 70-inch screen captures live footage transmitted by the drone’s high definition video camera. The drone’s props, each blade measuring 13 inches in length, gyrate in unison with a high-pitched whine that fades to noth- ing as it climbs. For a moment, the drone hovers, sending back images of the individuals


watching it rise, each one thinking what no one says aloud: “Cool.” Dubbed the Power Support Responder by its owner, Central Rural Electric Cooperative (CREC), this drone means serious business. As part of CREC’s


MARCH 2016 7 Reduce blinks: Using 3D imaging and other


add-on technology, a drone can detect dead or dying trees, limbs bumping into lines, and oth- er problem vegetation in and around the right of way.


Increase efficiency: A drone can monitor


your co-op system by measuring voltage, line loss, and other aspects of grid performance on an ongoing basis.


Save lives: By limiting the number of climbs


necessary to inspect a pole, drones reduce line personnel exposure to deadly hazards.


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