Drones Are the Newest Tool for Keeping the Power Running

UAV technology can help reduce the costs of operation while keeping power moving from spread out production locations to users.

by Brian Todd, Post-Bulletin / September 29, 2016
Unmanned aerial vehicles have become an option for inspecting power lines, bridges and other elements of infrastructure. Wikicommons

(TNS) — With the power flowing through the new Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse line of the CapX2020 electricity transmission project, stakeholders in the project met at the power substation in Hampton to show off the newest tool for keeping the power running.

Xcel Energy invited media and partners to see its unmanned aerial vehicle — a drone — that will inspect power lines and other infrastructure of the system.

The wind might have been a little strong to demonstrate the drone for Monday's meeting — though it did run tests earlier in the day — but that did not stop Xcel and its partners from talking about the system that was energized on Sept. 16, said Randy Fordyce, a spokesman with Xcel.

Teresa Mogensen, senior vice president of transmission for Xcel, said the ability of the new power transmission infrastructure to handle variable loads that come with renewable energy such as solar and wind is a big reason the lines were built.

"This project is already providing reliability in Rochester, Winona and La Crosse," she said. There are 1,000 megawatts of wind in the MISO queue, and Xcel has been the number one wind provider for 12 years in a row."

The 156-mile transmission line from Hampton to Rochester to La Crosse, Wis., is the latest segment to get energized by Xcel, she said. And the new grid will allow Xcel, Dairyland Power, Rochester Public Utilities and WPPI Energy to continue adding renewables.

Chris Kunkle, regional policy manager for Wind on the Wires, a nonprofit that works toward increasing wind energy, said Xcel was currently looking to add 1,500 megawatts of wind power.

"This line is going to help open the door to bring these projects into different markets," he said.

As for the UAV, Mogensen said it was the kind of technology that can help reduce costs of operation while keeping power moving from spread out production locations — wind and solar farms, natural gas power plants, and even existing coal plants — to users.

Alex Hinkle with Pulse Aerospace, the contractor providing the UAVs for Xcel, said the drones are equipped with video cameras but can also be outfitted with inferred sensors. The fully electric mini-helicopters can fly in temperatures ranging from minus-10 to 120 degrees in winds up to 20 knots safely.

"The UAVs have an extremely high potential as a new resource for us," Mogensen said. "They can save money and do work more efficiently."

©2016 the Post-Bulletin Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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