Monday, September 18, 2017

Ameren Illinois utilizing drones for quicker fixes



Ameren Illinois customers will no longer simply see employees and trucks when the company is repairing downed lines. They also may see a high-tech drone hovering above.

Ameren demonstrated the capabilities of its new drones Friday at its facility on West Lafayette Avenue. The company’s drone program launched roughly two years ago and now is active throughout the state, including in Morgan County.

“We can use drones to decrease the time of an outage if there is an outage, especially in an off-road area,” said Riley Adams, manager of electric initiatives for Ameren Illinois. “In the past, we would send several people to walk through there and see what’s wrong. That takes hours sometimes. It could be a line by a tree way down there. If we have a drone with a pilot locally that understood what they were looking at, we could go down to that area in 15 minutes and find out what’s wrong.”

Each of Ameren’s drones is assigned to a “pilot.” Instead of workers driving around until they find the problem, a pilot can fly a drone along power lines, taking photos and videos, if necessary. Once the problem is identified, workers can plot the quickest route to get there.

This came in handy a couple months ago in Beardstown, when workers had to troubleshoot a damaged line in a swamp, said Kyle Maxwell, supervisor of electric operations for Ameren Illinois.

Walking the area is not possible and a boat is used to patrol the lines, Maxwell said.




Using a drone, the area was quickly mapped out and the problem identified within 5 minutes. Workers then got to work and got the power going again, he said.

“Before, we’d be idling down the line using a boat motor and using binoculars to find the problem,” Maxwell said. “Labor intensive and not the safest way to do it.”

Safety is a big plus when it comes to drones, Adams said.

“When we send people walking down a line like that, there’s a lot of hazards,” Adams said. “There’s creeks, there’s beehives, there’s wires down, and it’s a hazard for employees. This eliminates those hazards. We can identify the safest way to get down there, identify what the problem is, what tools we need and get down there a lot quicker.”

Ameren’s drone pilots must get a remote pilot certificate through the Federal Aviation Administration and take a two-day training course at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s aviation school. Then they return home for further training through Ameren’s internal training program.

Aside from the obvious uses during storms and power outages, Maxwell said the drones will have a large role in day-to-day operations. For example, drones can be used for pole inspections, saving engineers time.

Maxwell also anticipates the company soon will be able to attach thermal cameras to the drones to help detect gas leaks.

The use of drones comes at no additional cost to Ameren customers, Adams said. The new technology will roll out across the state as new pilots are trained.

“We’re a 100-year-old company,” Adams said. “You don’t want to stay sitting in the past. You want to look to the future and see what’s out there. Once it gets fully developed, it’s going to be a benefit for the customer.”

Original article ➤ http://www.myjournalcourier.com

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