Pacific Gas and Electric Company convened hundreds of certified drone pilots, industry collaborators, community partners, and federal stakeholders in San Ramon, Calif. for a conference exploring the usage of unmanned aerial systems for utility operations.
The first-of-its-kind event for PG&E included product demonstrations and discussions with UAS hardware, software and drone service providers including Advexure, Airdata, Infravision, and Skydio, along with a high-powered speaker lineup featuring representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Unmanned Safety Institute, and several former United States Navy F/A 18 pilots who are charting the course for UAS technology advancements.
"PG&E operates one of the largest and most advanced drone-based equipment inspection programs in the world, helping enable us to deliver on our stand that catastrophic wildfires shall stop," said Jason Regan, Vice President of System Inspections, PG&E. "The PG&E 2023 UAS conference is a first-of-its-kind event providing drone pilots with insights on new technologies and best practices for the safe and responsible integration and operation of drones within the energy industry."
PG&E Pioneering the Use of Drones in Utility Operations
PG&E began first using drones in detailed electric transmission infrastructure inspections in 2015, but significantly ramped their usage by 2020 having proven their ability to make inspections more efficient and productive.
In 2022, PG&E began utilizing UAS technology to perform gas pipeline leak surveys on 16 miles of water crossings traditionally done by boat.
In 2023, working with Skydio, PG&E became the first utility in California to begin conducting fully remote drone operations for electric system inspections after receiving a waiver from the FAA to operate drones "beyond the visual line of sight" for a variety of inspections, providing a triple advantage of increased system, operator and community safety; reduced time and resources; and cost savings.
PG&E recently expanded its UAS applications beyond inspections, becoming the first utility in North America to string powerlines with drones working with Austin, Texas-based Infravision.
PG&E began using the Infravision TX UAV Stringing System to string powerlines in 2022, and has utilized the system 20 times, largely to repair sections of its overhead electric distribution grid damaged by winter storms, but also to proactively reconductor higher-voltage transmission lines.
The Infravision TX system can be deployed in areas and conditions where helicopters cannot fly, including for service restoration in difficult terrain during and after storms and for reconductoring projects in highly complex urban and suburban environments.
"Infravision and PG&E are providing the industry with a safer, more sustainable, and cost-effective alternative. Our collaboration focuses on enhancing customer and employee safety, minimizing environmental impact, and expediting service restoration. We are proud to partner with forward-thinking utilities like PG&E in driving innovation in powerline construction and maintenance. We look forward to further expanding our commercial partnership with PG&E and delivering innovation, safety, and cost savings for Californian energy consumers," said Cameron Van Der Berg, CEO of Infravision.
PG&E has a multi-year, agreement with Infravision to operate the TX system. PG&E has shared its experience using the TX system with the Edison Electric Institute, conducted trainings with British Columbia-based electric utility BC Hydro, and facilitated demonstrations for its sister utilities Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric.
Watch a video about PG&E's first proactive line stringing projects where PG&E UAS pilots and lineman working with transmission construction crews from Summit Line Construction successfully complete multiple wire pulls using the Infravision TX system.