By: Lincoln Courier |
Ameren Illinois is adding unmanned aircraft, commonly known as drones, to the arsenal of tools used to bring gas and electric services to Lincoln and Logan County.
The company hopes to use drones to survey land, assess damage to power lines and poles after extreme weather events and inspect infrastructure across its 43,700-square-mile service area.
As of this week, Ameren Illinois has trained 36 employees in drone operations, all of whom are now licensed and certified by the FAA.
The company, which delivers electricity to 1.2 million electric and 816,000 natural gas customers across 1,200 communities in Illinois, said in a news release this week, “Whether crews are dealing with downed power lines in a heavily wooded area or standing water near electrical infrastructure, emergency and storm response situations often expose workers to dangerous unseen hazards.”
Workers usually have to enter the energized zone, in close proximity to live wires, in order to evaluate equipment damage. By flying a drone over power lines or other pieces of infrastructure, crews can quickly identify problems and have the necessary information to make quicker repairs.
“By mounting a camera on a drone, a licensed and highly-trained operator can direct the drone to the damaged area and complete an initial aerial assessment. Crews on the ground can watch real-time video from the drone and identify the exact location of problem areas, resulting in safer restoration for crews and quicker restoration for customers.”
Eventually, Ameren Illinois aims to have at least one licensed drone operator at each of its operating centers.The company said this week that its drone operators will adhere to all state and federal regulations, which will protect the privacy of the general public and their employees.
“Drones cannot replace employees. Linemen and gas co-workers are the experts who keep the lights on and natural gas flowing,” the company said this week.
“However, drones represent one way Ameren Illinois is harnessing innovative technology to improve safety, reliability and customer service.”