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12/24/2012 02:17 PM     print story email story  

Drones Could Assist in Superstorm Sandy Situations

SustainableBusiness.com News

Among the technologies utilities are considering to help them recover faster and protect assets against future superstorms like Sandy are drones.

In West Virginia, workers had to trudge up mountains in waist high snow to repair 50-foot-high transmission lines. They had to figure out which lines were downed by trial and error because the blizzard made it impossible for helicopters to fly.

Therefore, American Electric Power Co., whose 39,000 mile transmission network is the largest in the US, is looking at using drones. Miniature remote controlled robots would patrol transmission lines, sending high definition videos to the company that show potential trouble spots, reports Bloomberg.

Drones can quickly survey damaged areas and are especially useful in hard-to-reach, remote areas that may be flooded or barred by fallen trees. They immediately send detailed images of downed utility lines or broken utility poles via computer to utilities.

The downside is drones so far can't be used in the midst of severe weather or in heavy fog.

The faster trouble spots can be identified, the faster they can be fixed. In fact, one of the most significant factors in how long restoration takes is the amount of time it takes to assess where the damage is, Charlie Fisher, vice president of disaster management consulting group Witt Associates, told Bloomberg.

In New York, utility Con Ed is also looking at drones as is Southern Company in Georgia.

They are also planning to more quickly roll out smart meters, which can map blackouts in real time and red flag homes that don't have power even after it's been restored in local substations. Smart meters made all the difference during Sandy where they were installed, restoring power for 130,000 homes in just two days in Washington DC and parts of Maryland.

Con Ed will also add sensors and switches that can "self heal" by rerouting power around damaged equipment.



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