The Federal Aviation Administration, approved Xcel Energy’s request on May 11 to operate small unmanned aircraft systems or drones to inspect electricity lines, natural gas transmission pipelines and additional facilities.
Xcel Energy sought the approval so it can inspect its critical energy infrastructure. With the approval, Xcel Energy will be able to more efficiently, effectively and safely monitor its systems using drone technology.
Xcel Energy inspects more than 320,000 miles of electricity and natural gas infrastructure to ensure the safety and reliability of its energy system.
Xcel Energy will also use the drones to inspect power plants, renewable energy facilities and substations.
“We are pleased with the FAA decision as we study how this new technology can best be used to enhance employee and public safety at our operations,” said Kent Larson, Xcel Energy’s executive vice president and group president of operations.
The use of small, unmanned aircraft systems will allow Xcel Energy employees to safely inspect hard-to-reach areas, keeping the workers out of danger. Employees also will use drones to observe environmentally sensitive areas without the use of trucks, helicopters or other utility equipment, minimizing the environmental impact, according to the utility.
“We believe these measures will increase electricity and gas system reliability, reduce customer costs and improve our emergency response times,” Larson said. He added that the company’s current plan is to use drones only over utility property or utility rights-of-way and away from populated areas and airports. The drones will be flown at low altitudes and in the operator’s line of sight, he said.
Xcel to use drones to inspect lines