For nearly a century, unmanned aerial vehicles – or drones – were primarily tools for the military. But in the last decade, various industries have embraced this emerging technology.
The energy industry is no exception. Duke Energy started using drones in 2015 to inspect wind and solar sites. The uses keep growing: In February 2018, drone operators engineered a way to help string power lines in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.
The company now has close to 100 qualified drone pilots, and operates around 60 drones. Employees in various departments are now certified pilots supporting every major line of business.
Drones have many uses at the company:
Duke Energy first used drones for storm damage assessment following Hurricane Matthew in 2016 when crews were unable to drive through the Carolinas’ flooded roads. With drones, the team could inspect power lines and vegetation quicker – knocking days off the company’s assessment.
Recently in Ohio, a team completed a drone inspection of a transmission tower and power lines in days along the Ohio River. These inspections would have taken weeks if lineworkers had to climb the towers.
Across the energy industry, drones are making it easier and safer to inspect many tall structures. Instead of climbing a power pole (some are more than 300 feet tall), a drone can fly to the top and take pictures from multiple angles. Drones are also able to zoom in on equipment, which makes it easier to see small defects like cracks on a wind turbine or porcelain insulator.