The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) and automated asset inspection firm Sharper Shape have partnered to promote safe usage of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for electrical grid inspection.

The partnership will work to demonstrate and develop commercial UAS beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights for electric companies.

EEI director of government relations Chris Hickling said: "The safe use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems can help electric power companies improve the reliability, resiliency, and security of the power grid, which ultimately benefits electricity customers.

"Our innovative partnership with Sharper Shape to safely develop the use of beyond visual line of sight UAS flights will provide crews with yet another tool to quickly and efficiently inspect critical assets during routine maintenance and following a storm or natural disaster."

Hickling said that some electric companies are already using UAS under the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) Section 333 program to operate flights within line of sight.

Both the firms are currently involved in studying the business and regulatory aspects of BVLOS flights.They plan to seek the approval from the FAA for demonstration of flights later this year.

Deploying BVLOS UAS flights for inspection of transmission and distribution lines could bring major benefits for the companies. Currently, inspections are being conducted manually or by using helicopters.

Sharper Shape founder Tero Heinonen said: "We believe the EEI – Sharper Shape Consortium will be instrumental in paving the way for the safe use of UAS for inspections. Having spearheaded the adoption of commercial BVLOS UAS flights for energy providers in Europe, we are excited to help develop a framework for large-scale and economic BVLOS UAS flights for all electric power companies in the US."

Last month, Sharper Shape had partnered with Sterlite Grid, India’s largest developer of private transmission systems, to offer surveillance & maintenance technologies to improve efficiencies in T&D sector in India.

Under the partnership, Sterlite Grid will set up operations in India involving all customer-facing activities, while Sharper Shape will provide software solutions, technical know-how and capabilities needed to develop technologies.