Cooperative News

Unmanned Aerial System brings reliability to new heights

How one program is helping PEC meet our most important goals

At PEC, our mission is to provide you with safe, reliable, and affordable power. That’s why we created the unmanned aerial system (UAS), one of our strongest and most cost-efficient reliability programs. Using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), our UAS does more than just inspect our electric systems from the sky.

The UAS program launched four years ago, strategically flying UAVs along stretches of power lines, known as feeders, that were less reliable or difficult to reach by truck, taking photographs and identifying potential outage-causing issues. Once identified, our maintenance crews work to correct these discrepancies.

UAVs have major advantages over traditional pole inspections. The view from above helps spot issues that would be hard to see from the ground. And, one UAV pilot can inspect more poles in less time than a whole crew; a level of efficiency that results in a 90% savings.

Since the program started in 2016, the UAS has helped cut down on outages so significantly that our System Average Interruption Index (SAIDI) — the average amount of time a member’s power is out over the course of a year — is nearly half of what it was at the beginning, dropping from 78 minutes to a very impressive 41 in 2020. In 2019, the UAS program found more than 2,000 potential issues. Thanks to the increased volume of inspections, we estimate that in 2020 we will be able to uncover at least 5,000.

  • Safety: Preventative maintenance means crews are dispatched less often to do dangerous field work, and a more reliable system is safer for our members.
  • Reliability: In four years, the UAS program has helped cut PEC’s SAIDI time nearly in half and allowed us to invest in other technologies that further increase reliability.
  • Affordability: As a nonprofit cooperative, our UAS program provides a terrific return-on-investment that means savings for our members.

Given the success of the maintenance program, PEC is now expanding the use of UAVs to put these powerful tools in the hands of select lineworkers in our districts so they can quickly diagnose and fix issues in the field. Expanding the use of UAVs means we can take a data-driven approach to driving our SAIDI numbers even lower.

“PEC is a frontrunner in the industry not only in implementing a UAS program, but one that targets specific goals,” PEC System Maintenance Supervisor Eric Bitzko said. “We are setting the standard for how effective implementation can be, and showing the incredible return on investment this program offers to our members.”

Proactive maintenance with UAVs is more efficient than traditional inspections, and fixing things before they cause an outage means saving on equipment damage. Plus, the money saved using this program can be reinvested in new technologies. These technologies provide further savings and reliability, reducing service interruptions and costs even more.

“Our goal is always to keep that SAIDI number going down,” Bitzko said. “We’ve reached really impressive reliability for a system of our size already, and I’m looking forward to delivering even better results to our members in the future.”