Headline Photo Credit:  NV Energy engineers and Drone America’s flight team use Drone America’s NavX UAS to survey a power line using thermal and visual sensors in Nevada. Photo by Kevin Clifford/Drone America.

Drones are becoming more commonplace within the utility industry and customers will reap the benefits

By Cheree Boteler | United States

When NV Energy’s Vice President of Business Development and Community Strategy, Mary Simmons, came to me in early 2016 and said she had a small assignment for me – to research whether NV Energy should pursue drone technology – neither one of us knew that small assignment would turn into a very large and important project for NV Energy. And more than that, it has turned into a personal passion of mine with a new set of professional responsibilities that are truly changing the way we do business.

Over the last two years, I have learned so much about the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) industry – its limitations and its benefits. Early within this process, it was decided to take a holistic view of the technology – truly finding ways for it to benefit our entire company and focusing our attention on how it can give us the best return on our investment which, in turn, will benefit our customers.

We are very lucky to be doing business in Nevada, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) designated test site. I was personally very fortunate to have connections with the entity that manages the test site, Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS). Together, we conducted a robust multi-tiered screening process to select a team to assist NV Energy in discovering opportunities to implement UAS into utility operations.

For the first time in Nevada, companies saw the value of teaming together to present their integrated solution proposals to NV Energy, marking a milestone in the Nevada UAS industry. The final team we selected through this process was composed of AviSight, Desert Research Institute (DRI) and Drone America.  Developing this team was, hands down, the best decision I could have made to build my own knowledge base and also to ensure that NV Energy has the best information to assist its executives in choosing which path to pursue with this technology.

For NV Energy and all utilities, the big picture is key. While flying drones is really cool, it all comes down the data. Through this process we have discovered that integrating UAS into our operations will not only provide us with higher quality data than we’ve ever acquired before but will also allow us a safer and more cost effective way to acquire data in hard to reach areas which are plentiful in Nevada, especially within our rural service territory.

Photo credit:  NV Energy engineers and Drone America’s flight team use Drone America’s NavX UAS to survey a power line using thermal and visual sensors in Nevada. Photo by Kevin Clifford/Drone America.

We are currently working to determine what types of data are most important and how often that data needs to be acquired. We are also continuing the discovery process for achieving beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) approval to inspect utility infrastructure. I believe that the ability to autonomously fly long spans of utility assets will be one of the most significant benefits of this technology for our industry.

Collaboration is key to being able to safely integrate unmanned aviation into the manned aviation National Airspace System (NAS). Test flights and operational UAS demonstration are a necessary step for full UAS integration in the NAS. Each safely executed flight, no matter who flies it, builds the safety case for advancing UAS technology and will potentially allow for streamlining the approval process.

I am so grateful to say that NV Energy embraces this technology, welcomes collaboration with other utilities and industry and firmly believes that this exciting technology could potentially fulfill a large portion of utility inspection needs in the future.

Cheree Boteler serves as NV Energy’s UAS Project Manager by leading the NV Energy Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) discovery team in collaborating with various state, education, research and private entities to work through the process of integrating UAS in utility operations.

With over twenty years of experience in the utility industry, Cheree is able to connect the dots between utility operations and the unmanned aircraft systems industry to build relationships that will further the development and integration of UAS for the utility industry.

Company Website: nvenergy.com
E-mail: caboteler@nvenergy.com
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