San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) has announced that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted the utilities company a Section 333 approval for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), allowing it to conduct aerial inspections of its electric and gas facilities, including emergency response damage assessments throughout its service territory. SDG&E is the second utility in the nation to be granted the Section 333 approval.
“The utility industry is rapidly changing and this new FAA approval is another milestone that will improve the way SDG&E conducts its operations,” said John Sowers, SDG&E’s vice president of electric distribution operations. “The new UAS technology will enable us to improve response times to emergency situations, inspect our electric and gas facilities in remote areas that are otherwise difficult to access, reduce the use of manned helicopters, enhance overall employee and public safety, and locate the cause of power outages faster.”
In 2014, SDG&E was granted approval by the FAA to fly a small UAS for the purpose of research, development and flight crew training in a sparsely populated airspace in eastern San Diego County. Through research and development, SDG&E began testing small UASs in day-to-day operations to improve inspections of electric lines.
SDG&E plans to use UASs in several situations which provide a variety of key benefits. In addition to locating the cause of power outages, the UASs improve situational awareness during emergencies through monitoring of fires; and will achieve cost savings, noise reductions and environmental protection by reducing the use of helicopters and other heavy machinery.
Measuring 16 inches in diameter and weighing less than a pound, these small devices use a camera to inspect utility equipment and relay live images back to the controller. The UAS can access infrastructure that is difficult to reach for utility crews and alert them if repairs are needed.
In order to maintain reliability, SDG&E inspects more than 26,000 miles of transmission and distribution power lines for safety and compliance purposes and to ensure the grid is continuously running smoothly and effectively.