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Utilities Call For Air Support 

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Nevelyn Black's picture
Writer, Independent

Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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  • Jan 30, 2021

Despite the pandemic, Fitch Ratings maintains its Stable Rating Outlook for U.S. energy infrastructure projects.  Senior Director Andy Joynt said, 'Most energy project financings will continue to benefit from fixed-price off-take agreements that minimize revenue and margin volatility.”  We can expect greater integration of renewables plus battery storage, bifacial solar and offshore wind.  Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has been performing maintenance work on power-lines and towers to ensure reliability.  No doubt utilities across the nation are busy with similar tasks to keep the light on.  Regarding one source of renewable energy, some 467 new offshore wind projects are in the works.   Whether it’s developing new projects or maintaining existing infrastructure, air support is the common denominator.  

PG&E recently employed several teams for maintenance and the construction of a new platform but the company relied heavily on drones to survey lines and complete the work.  So far, PG&E has been successful in using drone technology for electrical tower maintenance and will continue to utilize drones in the future. A PG&E statement said drone technology has “significant possibilities not just for employee and public safety, but for increasing reliability of our service and response time to outages.”  Drones provide a new line of support for utilities.  Florida Power & Light (FP&L) is showing their support for drone technology.    The utility was the first private entity to come on board to support the drone program at Palm Beach Lakes High School.  FP&L gave five drones worth a total of $20,000 to the school for its new STEM education program.  "FPL is a big advocate of STEM, and this class goes right with what we try to support," FPL spokesperson Paula Girard said.  "We like to teach students innovation and technology to inspire careers. This school is a special school. It's an underserved school, and these students, if they don't go to college or go to the military, they'll be able to hopefully get a job out of high school doing drone operations. That will open up a lot of doors for them.”  Promoting careers in the drone sector can only benefit the community, and eventually the utility labor pool.  Drone enthusiast and CEO of NUAIR, Ken Stewart, encourages those interested in the field to learn aviation and electromechanical technology.

Even though drones are flying high, helicopters are still a staple and requirement for some projects.  PG&E employed a helicopter to help transport workers and service materials to the tops of electrical towers. Using a long harness attached to the helicopter’s base, construction workers would clip-on, fly to area and get dropped off at line for maintenance work.  “The primary purpose of the helicopters is to help PG&E do day-to-day work in remote and hard-to-reach places across its 70,000-square mile service area. In addition to supporting utility work, PG&E can defer its use to make [them] available for first responder use, if needed and requested, during wildfire events.”  

Helicopter demand doesn’t stop there.  For a growing offshore wind industry, Air & Sea Analytics predicts that the helicopter fleets servicing the offshore wind market will increase by at least 100 aircraft valued at $1 billion between now and 2030. The offshore wind energy infrastructure is serviced by as many as 40 helicopters.  The consultancy added that offshore wind farm “crew transportation by rotorcraft will offer the lowest CO2 per passenger mile of any currently available option and the highest availability to the end-user, providing that latest-generation aircraft are used.” 

While they haven’t replaced larger, more expensive alternatives, drones continue to present obvious advantages for utilities.  Is your utility calling for air support?



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