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Drones, On the Horizon

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Drones are in high demand across multiple industries. This week, drones dropped packages on Virginia lawns in first-ever U.S. drone delivery tests.   Drones are also gaining popularity in the energy sector.  Power companies like PG&E, Xcel, NextEnergy and Dominion Energy are all cleared for take off.  Since 2016, PG&E has tested drone inspections and found they are best for difficult terrain where it would be dangerous, time-consuming and expensive for human personnel to inspect.  Using drones, utilities can complete inspections more often, at a lower price, while freeing up personnel to focus on repairs.  Ultimately, drones allow utilities to improve resource management and save money.  In 2018, Xcel Energy became the first utility in the US to be granted permission to fly a BVLOS operation for transmission line inspection. The utility leaned on key benefits offered by this deployment and carefully addressed regulators’ financial, regulatory, and technical concerns. Additionally, Colorado’s unique and diverse landscape provides the perfect conditions to justify drone deployment.  The mountain range create challenges for inspection and the plains have limited infrastructure, both result in high maintenance costs.  By using drones, those costs are coming down.  The U.S. Department of Energy reported the Savannah River Site (SRS) cleanup venture has saved more than $170,000 a year by relying on and deploying drones instead of helicopters and photographers.  ”Using aerial drones to inspect the roofs of closed reactors high above the ground using high-resolution video cameras provides for significant improvements in our efficiency and effectiveness," Savannah River Operations Office physical scientist Philip Prater said. "The drones also allow post-closure surveillance and maintenance activities to be performed remotely at these facilities, keeping our workers safe.”  SRS is a nuclear reservation in South Carolina that processed nuclear waste but the same drone inspection process could apply to any nuclear power plant.  The program was such a hit that the Energy Department recently recognized the SRS drone program with a sustainability award.  With drones on the rise, security and safety concerns have increased.  Security aside, how will drones impact the industry?  How will they change energy jobs?  Should I get my pilot’s license?  

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