Preventing outages with drone technology
Aug 19, 2019
An FPL drone pilot holding a remote control device gets ready to launch a drone

For years, Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) has leveraged emerging technologies to improve reliability of service for our customers. Today, drones are helping us perform proactive maintenance assessments of our equipment so that we can identify and resolve potential issues before an outage can occur.

The drone assessment program began in 2018 and uses drones to assess overhead power equipment in good weather and bad. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is the governmental body that regulates aviation in the United States, granted approval for FPL to use several specific drone models that meet federal safety and reliability requirements. These small, consumer-oriented drones resemble a small helicopter with four rotors. Generally, the drones are about the size of a basketball. 

Drones are ideally suited to assess power equipment because they can safely and quickly deliver high quality photos and videos of our power lines in a way that minimizes environmental impact. They also help us to not inconvenience customers in order to gain access to our equipment on their property. Because of these benefits, drone assessments are a standard industry practice.

During day-to-day operations, FPL uses drones to perform maintenance assessments of equipment. The company conducts approximately 10 of these proactive assessments each day across our service area. In 2018, FPL assessed more than 4,000 miles of overhead power equipment using drones. As of July 1, 2019, it has completed more than 3,000 proactive drone assessments, surveying more than 7,000 miles of overhead equipment.

Following a severe weather event, drones help FPL assess damage in areas that are flooded or impassable due to collapsed vegetation. In the days after Hurricane Irma in 2017, the company conducted more than 1,300 drone flights, which helped provide real-time assessments of its equipment after the storm.

“I see drone technology as another tool in our toolkit to provide safe, reliable and affordable power to our customers,” said Drone Program Manager Eric Schwartz. “Using the high-quality photos and thermal imaging technology, we are able to identify potential issues and schedule a crew to repair so that customers don’t experience an outage.”

During an assessment, the drone takes six close-up images of the equipment on each pole from various angles. Some drone assessments also use a thermal camera to detect changes in heat on the equipment. This method gives added visibility into potential issues that the naked eye would otherwise be unable to detect. Drones can also detect vegetation encroaching on power lines.

Eric and his team are also working on ways to incorporate image recognition software to make proactive assessments faster and even more accurate.

“I’m excited about the future of this program,” he said. “With the advances we’re seeing in image recognition technology, we hope to be able to assess more of our equipment each year, translating to even more reliable service for our customers.”

FPL delivered best-ever service reliability in 2018, continuing to rank best among all major energy companies in Florida.

“New technologies like drones are helping us provide more reliable service to our customers, at a price that is one of the lowest in the nation,” said Vice President of Distribution Operations Bryan Olnick. “We’re always exploring emerging technologies to improve service for our customers, while keeping bills low.”

Learn more about FPL’s drone program at FPL.com/Drones.

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