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APS using drones to inspect power lines ahead of Arizona summer

(KTAR News Photo/Kathy Cline)

PHOENIX — Arizona Public Service has created a little buzz since it decided to use drones to inspect its power lines before the upcoming summer.

A drone “carries a variety of cameras,” Scott Borden Kircher, the utility’s director of technology, innovation and integration, said. “We can take close-in pictures of equipment to see if it’s damaged or not.”

The machines can help identify flaws or damaged lines before linemen see them.

“Using infrared to see if there’s hot spots in that equipment — which may not visually show up — but does represent a pending failure of that piece of equipment,” Borden Kircher said. “We then send a crew out and we get it fixed before we ever have a customer outage.”

APS has been using drones for various functions since 2015. The drones were used for a variety of functions, from inspecting and siting power lines to monitoring solar fields and assessing damage after storms.

It’s not all fun and games operating the machines, though. Borden Kircher said all APS personnel who operate the drones are certified as airplane pilots by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“I bet if you asked any of our pilots, they’re actually going to tell you they enjoy what they do,” he said. “But, obviously, there’s a lot of caretaking — how close they’re flying; where they’re flying. The training program, again, is very rigorous.”

Borden Kircher said, by using drones, APS has saved more than $1 million in the past three years.

“Money that we save on programs like this and the efficiency we gain really goes right back to customers in the form of bill savings,” he said. “The other benefit to customers is, if we can get ahead of inspections and ahead of equipment breaking … a customer benefits by not having an outage in the first place.”

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