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Drones

for

Utilities Industry

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    The utilities industry consists of water utilities, electric utilities and gas utilities. They all have some different types of applications, but they all require inspection that can be carried out using drones. Drones in the utilities industry might take a while to be put into use due to privacy and regulatory issues, but they can make a significant economic impact on this industry.

    The main application of drones in the utilities industry is inspection. It involves inspection of gas pipelines, electric lines and also water pipelines. The drones that are needed for this sort of application already exist. Their potential to decrease costs is evident. Currently, multiple people have to spend a lot of time going long distances to inspect power lines. This has high labour costs and is inefficient. In comparison, one operator can send a drone out from a base to inspect multiple electric/gas/water lines. The drone can take photos and provide live feedback to the controller. It would do all of this and come back with the need of only one operator instead of multiple people going in a van or a jeep and then having to go up to the lines to inspect them. Already some companies in the US are using drones to inspect lines, among them, is San Diego Gas and Electric Co [1]. Their main benefit is that the drones can reach places that humans can’t easily go to, take pictures and come back having completed the inspection. This allows decreased labour and operating costs.

    Another application of drones in utilities is in water utilities. A few companies are using drones to read water meters. This leads to an easier way to read meters instead of sending out meter readers (increased labour costs) or setting up long distance wireless networks (hassle some and high upkeep costs). Instead, drones are a cheaper alternative that decrease labour costs from the current form of using manpower to go and read the meters. This should definitely help massively decrease operating costs for water utilities.

    A further application of drones for inspection in utilities is more autonomous inspection that is less monitored. Making the process have almost no manpower. The only problem with this is that it would take a much longer time perhaps 10-15 years for the government in almost any country to allow drones to be operated autonomously without any supervision. However, if this is allowed with the relevant safe technology, it will cut labour costs to make them negligible for inspections.

    In conclusion although there are a lot of benefits that utility companies can gain from drones, there are many regulatory and privacy hurdles that first have to be overcome. Although the benefits that will follow will almost certainly be worth the wait.

[1]"FAA Approves Limited Use Of Drones For Utility Company." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, n.d. Web. 28 July 2015. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/gregorymcneal/2014/07/12/faa-approves-limited-use-of-drones-for-san-diego-utility-company/>.