Georgia Utility Uses Drones to Assess Damaged Power Lines

Drones could help provide more detailed assessments of storm damage, which could lead to faster power restoration. The drones also could improve routine inspections, and do so more safely and cost-effectively.

by Christopher Seward, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution / May 8, 2015

(TNS) -- Southern Co. will begin researching ways drones might be used to inspect thousands of miles of power lines. The Atlanta-based energy company said it has received Federal Aviation Administration clearance to pilot unmanned aerial systems for business purposes.

The FAA exemption was granted to the company's Southern Company Services subsidiary. With more than 27,000 miles of transmission lines across 120,000 square miles in the Southeast, Southern said drones could help provide more detailed assessments of storm damage.

Chief Operating Officer Kimberly Greene said the quicker assessment could lead to faster power restoration. The company said drones could also improve routine inspections, and do so more safely and cost-effectively.

Drones increasingly are being developed for commercial use as the FAA seeks to relax some of its rules, and utilities are the latest to see the technology's benefits.

At the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Ga., aerospace firms showed farmers how drones could be used to gather multi-spectral images of crops to show which plants needed more fertilizer, water or nitrogen to head off problems.

Just this week, Atlanta-based CNN announced a partnership with the FAA to research how unmanned aircraft can be used for news-gathering in urban areas. San Diego Gas & Electric last year was the first utility cleared by the FAA to use drones in parts of San Diego County. Southern Co. said its initial drone research will be conducted at Georgia Power's Klondike Training Facility in Lithonia. Georgia Power is a subsidiary of Southern Co.

©2015 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.