US based electric utility Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has commenced testing for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as drones, designed to enhance the safety and reliability of its electric and gas service.
The firm has already secured approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to inspect electric and gas infrastructure using the UAS.
PG&E has completed the first test and it is scheduled to commence the second testing program in June to assess the feasibility of using small drones, which are controlled by human operators through remote commands.
During the testing programs, the company will validate the safety drones’ ability to detect methane leaks across 70,000-square-mile service area as well as its ability to monitor electric infrastructure in hard-to-reach areas.
Recently, PG&E completed flight testing of the drone at the Balch Powerhouse hydroelectric facility located in the high Sierra Mountains outside Fresno.
PG&E electric transmission and distribution senior vice-president Pat Hogan said: "These tests are helping PG&E demonstrate that drones can easily fly over remote or hard-to-reach terrain that is often inaccessible on foot, and send back imagery showing the condition of electric lines and equipment.
"We will continue to explore the benefits of adding safety drones to our set of tools for inspecting utility infrastructure."
PG&E plans to use a miniature methane sensor developed by the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for the drone.
Testing program for the NASA’s Open Path Laser Spectrometer sensor on the drone will be carried out in collaboration with JPL, the University of California, Merced’s Mechatronics Embedded Systems and Automation Lab (MESA Lab), and Pipeline Research Council International.
PG&E gas operations senior vice-president Jesus Soto said: "The ability to deploy an aerial methane detection tool over long distances and in remote areas could signal a major turning point in future gas leak detection capabilities for PG&E, and the larger utility industry as a whole."