How Cyberhawk Help Power Grid Operators Mitigate Wildfire & Outage Risks

Wild 20 Fire 20 Blog jpg jpeg
08 December 2021

There are nearly seven million miles of transmission and distribution lines stretch across the U.S. which, for the most part, are decades old. In the U.S. West, the pressure is immense for utilities to keep the power flowing without contributing to wildfires.

This year marks one of the worst wildfire seasons in history. As of late summer 2021, a total of 6,540 fires have been recorded in California, burning over 1,161,027 acres (405,000 hectares) across the state. Colorado, Idaho and Montana are also suffering from unprecedented wildfires.

High heat, droughts and winds have been a major factor and have wreaked havoc for utilities to properly maintain their lines and transmission structures — especially in the backcountry. Given the abundance of forests and deep canyons in these states, assuring that transmission towers and power lines are properly maintained and cleared of vegetation is a vital program for utilities.

Taking to the Skies

Traditionally, utilities have deployed teams of ground crews and helicopters to inspect and repair transmission structures, lines and associated equipment. These inspection methods are time-intensive, limited in their capabilities, and often dangerous; requiring line workers to perform their jobs at height. Helicopter surveys are frequently unable to capture detailed images of specific critical areas of a transmission structure due to obstructions or inclement weather.

For the most part, utilities are still reactive, responding to maintenance issues as problems arise or customers report concerns. This is no longer acceptable. Fortunately, rapid advances in unmanned aircraft systems or drones, along with digital image capturing software and cloud storage, make it possible to be proactive and identify maintenance needs safely before they cause problems.

While drone-based inspections are new to the utility industry, they are proving to be a critical asset in utilities' outage and fire mitigation programs. By quickly inspecting conductor clamps, insulator fittings, split pins, and other integral infrastructure components for defects, repairs can be prioritized and carried out quickly. With digital eyes in the sky, pilots can see other hazards such as encroaching vegetation, dangerous campfires and other issues that pose threats to people and the grid.

Ground jpg

It's All in the Data

While on the outset, drones are cool technology, it's the capture and handling of the mass amounts of critical data that can make or break the success of drone-based inspections. The proper management of terabytes of data is key to managing network assets and is central to how operational teams can manage inspections, maintenance, safety, and compliance. It's not uncommon for drone pilots to capture 100,000 images per day that must be reviewed, encrypted and submitted to the utility for analysis.

"When I was first introduced to our data held on Cyberhawk's cloud-based visualization platform, iHawk, I could not believe the quality of data we were able to obtain at the touch of a button, from any location. It is unrivaled compared to other data management tools I have seen being used in the energy sector," said the Head of Operations and Maintenance for a major utility in Scotland.

The visualization software provides actionable insights and unprecedented levels of access to terabytes of multi-level data. By having visual data at their fingertips, utility operation and maintenance teams can instantly gain a comprehensive visual understanding of their transmission lines, substations and switching substations.

The in-depth visual and thermal analyses expose integrity risks and reveal potential opportunities for improvement. This significantly reduces safety risk, downtime, environmental impact and costs due to the inspection speed and by removing the need for linemen to work at height, near live lines or in generally hazardous areas.

Interested in learning how we can support your project?

Download your free power grid capabilities overview pack now!

Experience Makes the Difference

Some utilities have their own in-house drone programs and others utilize professional visual data solution providers. Because visual site inspection using UAS is a relatively new field, many of the drone-based visual data capture companies are small and use freelance pilots. The pilots typically have obtained training for the FAA's Small UAS Rule (known as Part 107) test implemented in 2016.

This was a simplification of previous FAA requirements that had not yet evolved to specifically address drones. Current training courses to prepare students for this written theory test certification can range from 2-hour online programs costing as little as $50 to 4-year university aviation degree programs.

While FAA Part 107 is the baseline certification necessary to commercially operate a drone, it is only a theory test and its requirements do not begin to encompass the specific skills needed to meet exacting standards.

The best-of-breed visual data solution companies' pilots are employees instead of contracted labor to ensure professionalism, sharing of lessons learned, team building, and evolving skill sets specific to client needs. These pilots undergo comprehensive testing that evaluates a pilot's skill level on risk mitigation, target identification, digital geographic information systems and communication skills. Once this evaluation is complete, pilots move on to practice working on utility assets to ensure proficiency.

Some utilities have implemented their own drone pilot testing to ensure competence. One of the nation's largest utilities requires pilots to undergo a 50-point practical test performed on a live asset that includes conducting flight and risk assessments, a team debriefing, communication of safety factors from possible interference, battery status, and other details.

Cyberhawk 2 jpg

Interested in learning how we can support your project?

Download your free power grid capabilities overview pack now!

Drone Compliance

General Order 95 — or GO 95 — is the utility code for overhead line construction in California. Designed by the California Public Utilities Commission, it provides a set of rules that utility providers must abide by legally or be penalized.

The five main points of the rule state that a utility must:

Take responsibility for their own assets by regularly inspecting them.

Inform third-party companies when the original provider's asset directly affects a third-party's asset.

Notify third-party providers or companies should a fault or hazard be discovered while inspecting their own asset.

Act on any notification received from a third-party company that informs them of a hazard relating to their own asset.

Keep a clear and detailed record of all inspections that have been conducted of their assets for at least ten years.

Levels of safety classifications include:

Level 0 or Safety Hazard: A condition that poses significant threat to human life.

Level 1: An immediate risk of high potential impact to safety or reliability.

Level 2: Any other risk of at least moderate potential impact to safety or reliability.

Level 3: Any risk of low potential impact to safety or reliability.

GO 95 is an important ruling and engineers from well-experienced drone visual inspection companies are well-versed in the order and can help utilities ensure compliance.

When considering a drone-based visual inspection company to help mitigate outages and fires, consider these important questions:

  1. Do they have extensive global, decade-long experience surveying utilities' mission-critical assets?
  2. Can they scale quickly to meet expanded inspection needs?
  3. Do they have world-class pilots, inspection engineers and highly skilled in-house software developers?
  4. Is their visual asset management software state-of-the-art, IoT enabled, and cloud-based, delivering ultra-high-resolution images?
  5. Can they help you manage terabytes of data captured from drones, helicopters and/or ground patrols, convert it into usable management information, and deliver that quality assurance-inspected data quickly?

Interested in learning how we can support your project?

Download your free power grid capabilities overview pack now!