Daniel W. Fleischman
Manager, Transmission System Performance
In 2019 Xcel Energy, in partnership with eSmart Systems and EDM International, began a robust, virtual inspection of its 22,000-mile transmission network spanning nine states. This includes FAA approval for unmanned aircraft to take aerial images of its assets.
Xcel Energy has now collected and analyzed 15,500 transmission miles and collected asset attribute and condition to ensure that electricity is transported more reliably, efficiently, and safely. The unmanned aerial survey program continues to improve through the following:
- Continuous improvement of virtual inspections to drive higher quality and efficiency
- Collaborative AI – evolving how human SME’s and AI can combine to deliver the best inspection
- Leveraging the data from a comprehensive inspection – lightning arrester case study
The UAS program at Xcel Energy has been a success will continue to add value into the future.
Xcel Energy’s Program:
In 2019 Xcel Energy, in partnership with eSmart Systems and EDM International, began a robust, virtual inspection of its 22,000-mile transmission network spanning nine states. This included FAA approval for unmanned aircraft to take aerial images of transmission line assets using beyond line of visual site.
After the first three successful phases, Xcel has now collected and analyzed 15,500 transmission miles. The program continues to collect asset attribute and asset condition data to transport electricity more reliably, efficiently, and safely.
The program has met its primary program goals:
- Inspection of all transmission line using Unmanned Aerial Survey
- Collaboration with the FAA as part of the partnership for safety
- Scalable, regulatory enabled, economically viable operations
As a result, the program has yielded a large quantity of useable and useful data:
The implementation of the UAS program had secondary goals 1) to increase the speed at which field issues were identified and 2) increase the efficiency at which high priority issues were communicated to stakeholders. These goals have the added benefit of lowering inspection costs.
The program has increased the level of data capture and automated the review of the incoming photo stream. The intent was to increase consistency and the speed at which condition assessments could be performed. This was accomplished through the capture of millions of images coupled with the use of AI. Most importantly, the program was meant to enhance safety during the inspection process and to the public through increased understanding of real system condition.
The UAS program is still a new program and is continuously finding ways to improve. Key target areas of potential improvement include:
- Virtual Inspections
- Incorporate ever-evolving camera technology
- Evolve the flight profile match to the job
- Advance analytics to provide insights
- Collaborative AI
- AI in production with Xcel Energy UAS Model – AI research and development is performing in parallel with the inspection process to drive down costs and increase production
- Al works with subject matter experts to enhance results
- The system helps prioritize defects and reduces the human time burden
- Leveraging data from comprehensive inspection
- Data from inspection has been used to target specific areas of concern, such as wildfire risk. The data inventory created has been used to identify common vulnerabilities without requiring exhaustive searches. The trustworthy data has been used to plan strategic capital projects.
Results Speak for Themselves
Defect detection rate is best-in-class compared all methods of aerial patrol, ground patrol, climbing and detailed aerial. Additionally, these inspections have become cost competitive and safer than other alternatives. The UAS program at Xcel Energy has been a success will continue to add value into the future.