Cooperative News

Savings and reliability soar with our unmanned aerial system

PEC's eye in the sky IDs issues 23 times faster, without crews stepping foot in your yard

It was one of the worst performing feeders in the system.

BT-140, a 12-mile length of line serving members in Bertram, suffered a higher than average rate of outages, both in frequency and duration. Despite the round-the-clock work of our crews to restore power when storms rolled through, PEC Bertram Regional Operations Manager Kurt Buckner felt his members were spending too much time in the dark.

So he reached out to PEC’s eye in the sky for help.

Our Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) debuted in 2016, with a focus on our transmission lines. Using registered pilots and aerial technology, PEC was able to quickly and efficiently inspect equipment without setting foot on member property. The savings in time, reliability and manpower were immediately evident. Buckner hoped to harness the same results in his district.

“We started with the Copperas Cove substation, flying overhead and taking multiple photos of each pole, then having our technicians examine them,” Buckner said. “Using the technology, we identified repairable issues on about 30 to 40 percent of those poles. We’re already seeing decreases in outages in this area as a result.”

Those decreases are specific and measurable: On average, members in Copperas Cove experience five fewer minutes per year without power now than they did a year ago. The program is just getting started. But it’s moving at the speed of flight.

“In May 2018, after a storm in Bertram, we used the UAS to inspect the 12 miles of line on BT-140 in seven hours, about 325 poles,” said PEC Technical Services Supervisor Eric Bitzko, who manages PEC’s UAS program. “For a team on the ground, going structure to structure, that would take about 81 hours. That’s 162 man-hours. We did it in seven.”

How we protect your privacy

Our UAS is registered with the Federal Aviation Administration and follows best practices outlined by the Department of Defense and Department of Energy, as well as Texas regulations governing the use of unmanned aircraft. The UAS allows PEC to complete inspections without setting foot (or, as Buckner says, driving big trucks) onto our members’ property, and the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) only enter PEC’s right-of-ways, just as crews on the ground would do. We also notify members by phone in advance of UAS inspections.

“We want to be seen and visible,” Buckner said. “One of our unmanned aerial vehicles is bright blue, with the PEC logo on it. We want people to know that we’re just here to make their power cheaper, better and more reliable. We’re here to help.”