As one of the first U.S. utilities to receive Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval to pilot unmanned aerial systems (UAS), the Southern Company (NYSE:SO) system is seeking innovative ways to more safely and efficiently meet customers' energy needs using this emerging technology.
Under the FAA exemption granted to subsidiary Southern Company Services, the company is permitted to investigate the applicability of UAS for assessing weather-related damage to power lines and for routine inspections.
Among their potential benefits, UAS could help utilities reduce the duration of storm-related outages, perform power line inspections more safely, lower operating and maintenance costs and reduce environmental impacts. For example, with utility infrastructure that includes more than 27,000 miles of transmission lines across 120,000 square miles in the Southeast, UAS could provide the Southern Company system a quicker and more detailed assessment of areas and infrastructure impacted by severe weather.
"Families across the Southeast depend on us to quickly and safely get the lights back on after major storms," said Southern Company Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Kimberly S. Greene. "Our innovative approach to exploring the use of unmanned aerial systems in damage assessment could speed the process of restoring power to affected communities – further delivering on our commitment to the customers our utilities serve."
The company will conduct initial UAS research operations at subsidiary Georgia Power's Klondike Training Facility in Lithonia, Georgia, and, following research operations, may deploy the technology across the Southern Company system.