How Drones are Restoring Power in Puerto Rico

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Restoring power to mountainous areas once a hurricane has hit is a challenge. The terrain tends to add serious complications to any recovery operation, particularly when power lines run from peak to peak. According to Fast Company, Duke Energy has been using drone technology to reconnect remote parts of Ponce, Puerto Rico, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

The video below shows the Duke Energy team in action.

Battling dense forests, broken poles, mountain ranges and power lines buried under five months’ worth of overgrown vegetation after Hurricane Maria, our crews are finding faster and safer restoration success with the use of drones in Puerto Rico. Learn more about the first deployment of power restoration drones on the island: #PoweringPR

Posted by Duke Energy on Thursday, February 15, 2018

Drones help get the light back on in Puerto Rico

As reported in an article on Fast Company article, Duke Energy have traditionally used helicopters to deal with these types of scenarios, carrying cables from peak to peak – until a pilot was killed in an accident last year.

Drones offer an obvious alternative, without putting staff in danger. “The question was raised, is there another way to do this?” said the Manager of Unmanned Aerial Systems at Duke Energy, Jacob Velky. It looks like they’ve found one.

The system is pretty straightforward. A lightweight nylon cord is attached to the drone before it’s sent across the ravine with the cable in-tow. Once the drone reaches the assigned drop off point, it releases the cord. Workers on the ground can then fasten a second cord which allows them to pull the vital conductive wires into place.

duke energy, using drones to reconnect power lines in puerto rico

Duke Energy

It wouldn’t be possible without an ingenious 3D-printed electromagnet. This allows the pilot to drop off the cord with accuracy.

Duke Energy arrived in Puerto Rico last month. Crews spent six days in Ponce, using drones to reconnect power lines around the area.

“We were doing upwards of 3-4 pulls in a day,” Velky said. “There was no shortage of work.” And some of it was huge in terms of scale. One pull successfully linked up a power line across a 1,200ft ravine.

Drones offer more than pulling power

It goes without saying that the Dukes Energy team were able to use drones to scout out damaged infrastructure, not just for repairs.

“Being in the jungle, once the conductor is off and you just have a wooden pole out in the tress, it’s very difficult to see where the pole is,” Velky said. “So using the drone to do reconnaissance instead of somebody going out there and walking around trying to find it just minimized the amount of time that employees are off-road.”

According to Duke Energy, power was back online for around 68% of customers in the area they were assigned when the team arrived in January. A little over a month later that number was up to 94%.

Overall it’s a huge success for drone technology and a great example of how UAVs can bring efficiencies, new levels of safety and conquer difficult environments.


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