Beyond Inspections: PG&E Drone Program

PG&E Explores Cutting-Edge Drone Technology to Elevate Utility Operations
Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) (NYSE: PCG) orchestrated a comprehensive conference today, uniting certified drone pilots, industry collaborators, community partners, and federal stakeholders to delve into the myriad applications of unmanned aerial systems for utility operations. Participants included Advexure, Airdata, Infravision, and Skydio, along with representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Unmanned Safety Institute, and former United States Navy F/A 18 pilots actively contributing to UAS technology advancements.
Jason Regan, Vice President of System Inspections at PG&E, emphasized, “PG&E operates one of the largest and most advanced drone-based equipment inspection programs in the world, helping enable us to deliver on our stand that catastrophic wildfires shall stop.” The PG&E 2023 UAS conference marked a pioneering effort, providing drone pilots with insights on new technologies and best practices for the safe and responsible integration and operation of drones within the energy industry.

PG&E  has been at the forefront of leveraging drone technology in utility operations. Beginning with infrastructure inspections in 2015, PG&E significantly intensified drone usage by 2020, showcasing their efficiency and productivity. In 2022, the utility giant began utilizing UAS technology to conduct gas pipeline leak surveys on 16 miles of water crossings traditionally surveyed by boat.
In 2023, PG&E, in collaboration with Skydio, became the first utility in California to conduct fully remote drone operations for electric system inspections. This achievement, facilitated by an FAA waiver for operating drones beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) offers triple advantages of increased system, operator, and community safety; reduced time and resources; and cost savings.
Expanding its UAS applications further, PG&E recently became the first utility in North America to string powerlines with drones in collaboration with Infravision. The Infravision TX UAV Stringing System, deployed in challenging areas where helicopters cannot operate, proves to be a safer, more sustainable, and cost-effective alternative. Cameron Van Der Berg, CEO of Infravision, expressed pride in the collaboration, emphasizing a focus on enhancing safety, minimizing environmental impact, and expediting service restoration.

Under a multi-year agreement with Infravision, PG&E has not only shared its experience using the TX system with industry peers but has also conducted trainings with BC Hydro and facilitated demonstrations for sister utilities Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric. PG&E’s commitment to innovation is underscored by the proactive stringing projects, where UAS pilots and linemen successfully employed the Infravision TX system.
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Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry.  Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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