For the first time, SDG&E will be flying drones to check on their power lines.
The Federal Aviation Administration just approved test flights only for eastern San Diego County, making ours the only utility in the country to get the go-ahead to use unmanned aircraft.
“We have 26,000 miles of transmission lines,” said Hanan Eisenman, the SDG&E spokesperson. SDG&E is on a constant watch over those lines and the more than 450,000 trees near them.
“We actually have to send a person to the top,” Eisenman said. They use heavy trucks and ladders to send skilled employees up to inspect for debris or any wear and tear on the lines.
But now they will have some help from a tiny contraption with massive potential.
Drones would take over and do the inspecting. They have a camera on them that’s about the size of a pencil’s width. That camera will send a live feed back to a mobile control room.
The drone weighs about less than one pound, and it’s about 16 inches in diameter, with four propellers that allow it to move straight up, forward and backwards. It can get to the tops of power lines in a matter of seconds. Not only is it quicker, it’s better for the environment and much cheaper.
Two drones and the camera gear cost $6,000 total.
Compare that to when SDG&E sends helicopters to inspect their lines, it costs them about $2,000 an hour to lease.
The utility can also use drones during high winds and to inspect fires, sending them over sites too dangerous for people. Eisenman said, “if there is a fire we can monitor it, check to make sure it’s not getting to close to our lines.”
SDG&E has only been approved to test them now in four small regions through the McCain Valley in East County, each about 2.5 miles by 1/2 mile.
Once the test phase is over, SDG&E will likely request more drones to patrol more land and more transmission lines.
These drones could save you money in the long run, since the utility will save by not having to send out as many trucks or lease as many helicopters. But it’s too early in the test phase to know how much or if this will impact your bill.